Bob Brown VR: Technology in the Wilderness

The Bob Brown Foundation is dedicated to protecting Australia's wild and scenic natural places. But explaining the beauty and importance of these places can be difficult given their remoteness and lack of access. The BBF has turned to technology to help spread the word. By Jeremy Torr.

Tasmania, 1 October 2018. Explaining the experience of being in one of the world’s last temperate rainforests is difficult; there is little to compare it to. The Bob Brown Foundation (BBF), a Tasmania-based campaigning organisation dedicated to protecting wild places of ecological and global significance, such as Tasmania’s wild north west Tarkine, has used innovative technology to make the task easier.

 The 3D videos and images from the Tarkine are amazing. Courtesy Crows Nest Media.

The 3D videos and images from the Tarkine are amazing. Courtesy Crows Nest Media.

Using the expertise of video producers Crows Nest Media and Push Start VR, the Foundation has produced three totally immersive, 360-degree field-of-view videos that transport viewers to the remote Tasmanian rainforest. The videos are part of an ongoing BBF campaign to recognise more areas in Tasmania as National Parks and World Heritage Areas by 2020.

The three shorts – each is about seven minutes long – feature the rugged north-west Tasmanian Tarkine (takayna in local language) forest, sections of the coastline, and an anti-logging treetop protest camp deep in the Tarkine forest.

Todd Walsh walks a pristine Tarkine river in search of the Giant Freshwater Crayfish. Courtesy BBF.

However, one of the first – and most impressive – videos features local invertebrate expert and ranger Todd Walsh talking about the unique Giant Freshwater Crayfish as he wades through peat-coloured rivers deep in the bush.

The crayfish, Astacopsis gouldi or lutaralipina (lu-tah-rah-lee-pee-na) in Aboriginal language, is an ancient survivor that grows to a massive several kilos in weight, simply by nibbling the remnants of decayed trees, fungi and small insects as it ambles slowly over river beds in the Tarkine for up to 60 years of a long and slow-lived life.

This incredible creature is the largest freshwater invertebrate in the world, and unique to Tasmania. It can grow to just under a metre in length and tip the scales at an astonishing 6kg. But sadly, due to over-catching, silt in rivers and a gradual loss of habitat, it has been listed as an endangered on the IUCN Red List. It has had protected species listing and a prohibition on catching since 1998. Numbers have come back slightly in recent years, but it is still in danger as a species.

“My family have always held the rivers and the nature here in high regard, and respect them. That’s why we still like coming here,” says Walsh. “My great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and me all used to catch and eat these animals. But today the tables have turned and its average Joe fishermen like you and me that have to become conservationists,” he explains in the video.

As part of the BBF campaign for protection of this threatened species and its habitat, the video, along with the two others on the Tarkine, have been put together to allow remote users to experience a full 3D dip into the amazing rainforest habitat.

 Viewers can use 3D goggles or a standard monitor to view the immersive videos. Courtesy Melbourne Minute.

Viewers can use 3D goggles or a standard monitor to view the immersive videos. Courtesy Melbourne Minute.

The video can be viewed on Youtube using a monitor with mouse control that lets the viewer zoom up and down in the treetops or river bed, round behind the narrator or looking at the crayfish as it waves its feelers. It’s brilliant.

Even more brilliant is to use VR goggles to create a real-time moving environment, complete with trickling water and bush noises as you walk around the scene. As a way to duplicate the experience of being in the Tarkine, it has no equal.

The videos have been screened in Melbourne and Hobart, and coming up at the Burnie Show in north Tasmania, but will be made available for public viewing at selected venues in the future. BBF campaign manager Jenny Weber said the aim of the “Virtual Tarkine” videos was to use new technologies to increase awareness of the campaign.

"We need as many ways as possible to engage people in these campaigns. Protection of the Tarkine won’t be won in Tasmania. We need people nationally to be inspired by takayna / Tarkine, join the campaign and take action with us,” she said.