Explore Biscayne Bay with new Virtual Reality experience

Theo Quenee sits on an outdoor patio in Coconut Grove, but he is in an underwater world.

Through virtual reality (VR) glasses, the 22-year-old, who has a mangrove tattoo on his left thigh, looks past the edge of his shorts, mangrove forests, seagrass beds and shoals of fish swimming past in Virginia Key. He points to a starfish without leaving his seat.

The Biscayne Bay virtual reality experience is the latest project from Quenee’s nonprofit group SENDIT4THESEA, an environmental organization 22-year-old Quenee co-founded with her high school friends from MAST Academy which organizes waste cleanup in Miami’s waterways and offers environmental education presentations to schools and summer camps. The non-profit organization borrows its name from Quenee’s background in water sports, where athletes will encourage their friends who are scared or frightened to perform a trick or stunt with the accusation “Send it!”

“‘Send it’ is something like an encouragement. So if you want to do something, do it with the intention of raising awareness about the ocean,” Quenee says. “Send it to the sea.”

As a part-time photographer and filmmaker, Quenee recently got her hands on 3D film equipment and saw an opportunity to marry her two professions. He took the equipment to Virginia Key, where he and his partners over several weeks shot and edited underwater footage of important aquatic Miami ecosystems, such as mangrove roots and seagrass beds.

Anyone with a basic VR setup can configure SENDIT4THESEA’s 3D videos on their device by going to the group’s YouTube channel, and experience what it’s like to swim with the manatees and tropical fish in the southern Florida waterways without having to hold your breath.

The videos are only about 50 second footage for now, but Quenee has larger designs for what the program could be. He envisions public schools throughout Miami using the VR videos to make lesson plans for students that provide a first-hand look at some of the plant and animal species they might otherwise only read about in a textbook.

“So of course for younger kids, you can ask them if they see the fungi or the fish, and with high school students, you can ask them questions about biodiversity like what chains of ecosystems they can identify,” Quenee explains.

Wastewater runoff, climate change and property development have threatened Biscayne Bay in recent years. Scientists and environmentalists have stated that the bay is in one state of emergency it could cost millions to rehabilitate, as basic ecosystems such as seagrass beds that serve as both habitat and food source for local marine animals die out in wide shards.

Quenee hopes to be able to record and edit more footage to show how the underwater environment has deteriorated due to human impact.

“The plan is to document and really show people what healthy seagrass looks like and what dead seagrass looks like,” Quenee explains. “And I can also edit it to show it side by side.”

The program is still in its pilot phases, and Quenee is seeking to partner with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to introduce the VR experience to classrooms and provide school-wide demonstrations aimed at inspiring the next generation to act to save the local ecosystem.

Quenee is seeking more funding to film more underwater excursions and donate VR headsets to underprivileged schools.

“It would be great if a technology company or a VR company would help us – I think it would be a great partnership with [Mayor Francis Suarez] trying to push the technology in the city, “says Quenee.

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