Jellyfish or plastic bag? New VR film dives in to troubled waters

© CI/Sterling Zumbrunn

Imagine for a moment that you are 2 inches tall. Submerged in the ocean (don’t worry, you can breathe!), you hitch a ride on the back of a translucent jellyfish. Suddenly, a massive leatherback turtle swoops above your head, chasing down its next meal. As you get closer, you realize the floating translucent object is not another jellyfish — the turtle’s favorite food — it’s a plastic bag. Looking up toward the surface, you notice the sunlight is peeking through a thick layer of bottles, containers and other plastic trash.

This is Conservation International’s new social virtual reality experience, “Drop in the Ocean.” Four players are transported under water and brought face to face with the global plastic pollution crisis — from the perspective of the creatures that live in it.

When you’re under water in “Drop in the Ocean,” you will be stunned by the sheer amount of plastic that marine species encounter every day. In fact, by 2050, there will likely be more plastic in the ocean by weight than fish.

The solution, explains Jen Howard, director of oceans and climate for Conservation International, starts on land — and it’s not just recycling plastic water bottles and choosing reusable grocery bags. Instead, she said, we need to transform the way we think about and use plastics, including reducing our plastic use.

“Recycled plastic has to become more valuable,” Howard said. “Right now, virgin plastic — plastic produced directly from natural gas or crude oil — is usually cheaper for companies to use than recycled products.

“One of the key challenges we are trying to tackle at Conservation International is how we can increase the value of recycled plastic to make it more competitive, so that companies actually want to collect and reuse it in their products.”

And if the marine plastic pollution issue seems insurmountable, don’t despair, counsels Howard: “Solving this problem starts with people who are ready to challenge companies and governments to do better.”

“Drop in the Ocean” premieres today at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film is narrated by explorers Philippe and Ashland Cousteau and is created from the photos of Academy Award-winning micro-photographer Peter Parks. Experience Conservation International’s other VR films, “My Africa,” “Valen’s Reef” and “Under the Canopy,” here.

“Drop in the Ocean” was co-produced by Conservation International and Vision3 and made possible with support from SC Johnson. Additional support was provided by Vulcan Productions with tech support in-kind from HP.

Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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