Virtual Reality of Coral Reefs

On Friday, March 16, Brianna Bambic will defend her master‘s thesis in Coastal and Marine Management. Her thesis is titled Virtual Reality of Coral Reefs: Exploring Ecological Worldviews, Environmental Attitudes and Psychological Distance after an Immersive Virtual Experience. The thesis presentation begins at 14:00 and is open to the public.

The thesis advisors are Dr. Andrea Stevenson Won, Associate Professor at Cornell University and Cody Karutz, Associate Faculty of Science at University of Technology in Sydney. The external reader is Dr. Bradley W. Barr, a Senior Policy Advisor in the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and Visiting Faculty at the University Centre of the Westfjords.


The science-public communication gap has persisted for decades, due to the psychological distance to issues such as climate change and long-term ecosystem degradation being hard to describe to the general public. In contemporary scientific literature, stakeholder engagement is the prevalent leadership lesson for successful implementation of coastal management programs. However, how to engage the public is scarcely addressed. This thesis examines the effects of temporal framing when experiencing coral reef degradation through a 360 video Immersive Virtual Experience (IVE) in order to observe the capability of a new engagement tool. Participants from coastal (Los Angeles, California) and inland (Boise, Idaho) communities were exposed to Virtual Reality (VR) footage of coral reefs in Belize in one of two conditions; archival (1967) and present day (2017) footage combined; or present-day footage alone. Pre- and post-tests examined the moderating effects of ideology and worldview on condition using Dunlap’s et. al. (2000) New Environmental Paradigm (NEP). Outcome measures included psychological distance, ecological concern, perception of ocean mitigation policies, and willingness to take personal pro-environmental action. Results show there was an interaction between condition and pre-test NEP scores on completion rates, as well as a main effect of NEP scores on the pre- and post-test measures. These findings are important for environmental public policy and communication by highlighting how IVE’s can enable powerful direct media experiences of marine environments, and how reactions to such IVEs may vary by existing ideology and worldview. This thesis attempts to guide coastal managers to engage and communicate with stakeholders in a novel and captivating way.