Theo Quenee sits on an outdoor patio in Coconut Grove, but he’s in an underwater world.
Using virtual reality (VR) glasses, the 22-year-old, who sports a mangrove tattoo on his left thigh that protrudes from the hem of his shorts, gazes at mangrove forests, seagrass beds and benches. of fish swim 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 non-profit group SENDIT4THESEA, a 22-year-old Quenee environmental organization co-founded with her friends from high school at MAST Academy that organizes litter-lane cleaning. Miami waterways and offers environmental education presentations for schools and summer camps. The nonprofit takes its name from Quenee’s experience in water sports, where athletes will encourage their scared or worried friends to perform a trick or stunt with the load “Send it!” ”
“’Send’ is something like an encouragement. So if you’re going to do something, do it with the intention of raising awareness of the ocean,” Quenee said. “Send him to the sea.”
A part-time photographer and filmmaker, Quenee recently got her hands on 3D filming equipment and saw an opportunity to combine her two occupations. He took the equipment to Virginia Key, where for several weeks he and his partners shot and edited underwater footage of Miami’s major aquatic ecosystems, such as mangrove roots and seagrass beds.
Anyone with a basic VR setup can set up SENDIT4THESEA’s 3D videos on their device by going to the group’s YouTube channel and find out what it’s like to swim with the manatees and tropical fish of the southern waterways. of Florida without having to hold their breath.
The videos are only about 50 seconds of footage so far, but Quenee has more grandiose designs for what the program could be. He envisions public schools across Miami using VR videos to create lesson plans for students, offering first-hand insight into some of the plant and animal species they could otherwise only read in a textbook.
“So obviously for the younger ones you can ask them if they see sponges or fish, and with the high school students you can ask them questions about biodiversity, like the chains of ecosystems that they see. can identify, ”says Quenee.
Sewage runoff, climate change and real estate development have threatened Biscayne Bay in recent years. Researchers and conservationists have said the bay is in a state of emergency that could cost millions of dollars to rehabilitate, as fundamental ecosystems like seagrass beds that serve as both habitat and food source for them. Local sea creatures die in large flocks.
Quenee hopes to shoot and edit more footage to show how the underwater environment has deteriorated due to human influence.
“The plan is to document and really show people what healthy seagrass looks like and what dead seagrass looks like,” says Quenee. “And I can also edit it to show it side by side.”
The program is still in its pilot phase and Quenee is looking to partner with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to bring the virtual reality experience to classrooms and do school-wide demonstrations. , with the goal of inspiring the next generation to take action 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 cool if a tech company or a VR company wanted to help us – I think it would be a cool partnership with [Mayor Francis Suarez] trying to push technology into the city, ”says Quenee.