When you look at the Thames what do you see? A brown and murky surface devoid of life? Or a thriving ecosystem filled with amazing animals?
Historically people turned their backs on the river, leaving a polluted Thames that was declared biologically dead in the 1950s. But today, after much work by lots of conservation organisations and governmental bodies, the Thames is far cleaner and is teaming with life. Over 120 species of fish call the Thames home including the short-snouted seahorse and the Critically Endangered European eel. These fish support a whole food web including top predators like seals, harbour porpoise and shark. And the Thames isn’t just a pathway for migration but is a key nursery ground for many of these species including seabass, flounder and dover sole; harbour seals and tope shark; European eels and smelt (the fish that smells of cucumber).
However, many people seem to be oblivious of this and the Thames remains London’s Wildlife Secret. After working for the last 15 years in the Thames, one of our greatest challenges to conservation remains people’s poor perceptions of the river. In order to try and change this we have teamed up with two amazing creative agencies BYO and Somewhere Else to create the first unmanned, free-standing, outdoor, virtual reality experience, right here on the banks of the Thames in London. Using Timescope technology, through what originally might appear to be an old-school pair of pier binoculars, Londoners are invited to ‘swim’ through the river and meet several of the incredible animals that call the Thames home, all without getting their hair wet. Users can move the headset up, down and spin around to explore the Thames and its species, making every dive unique, allowing friends and family to challenge each other about what species they have seen or what facts they have heard. Virtual reality has allowed us to remove the brown, murky waters and make the invisible visible.
We hope this experience will inspire users about the river running through the heart of London, which for most will be the largest wild habitat on their doorstep. By learning about the species living there and the incredible habitat the Thames creates we hope people will want to protect it. Protect it from the plastic entering the Thames every day, protect it from the developments encroaching its banks, and protect it from the multitudes of misconnected sewers coming from many people’s homes. The Thames has come a long way in the last 60 years, imagine what it could look like in another 60 if London turned around and faced our amazing Mother Thames again.
ZSL’s Thames Virtual Reality Experience can be found at 1 London Bridge, on the river path next to London Bridge station and will be running from September 2019 until September 2020. It is a free experience and accessible to all.
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