A new project aims to bring the beauty of Cayman’s underwater world to a new type of tourist – virtual scuba divers.
South Africa-based WildEarth teamed up with scuba operator Don Foster’s for three live web broadcasts from Cayman’s reefs last week.
More than 60,000 people tuned in for the test launch, screened on the organization’s Facebook page as well as on the website of PADI – the Professional Association of Diving Instructors.
Followers were able to pose questions about Cayman’s wildlife in real time to divers and marine biologists, who were rigged up with high-tech microphones and camera equipment.
The group will be back later this month for a week of broadcasts and ultimately hopes to bring daily dives from beneath the waves to armchair tourists all over the world.
Emily Wallington, of WildEarth, said the DiveLive project would be an expansion of the company’s SafariLive platform – a partnership with National Geographic TV, which takes followers on virtual safaris. “Our mission is to share nature with the world and connect people to nature,” she said.
“These broadcasts allow people to interact in real time and get their questions answered. You actually feel like you are transported; you are on the back of the safari truck or you are with the diver underwater.”
Mrs. Wallington and her husband Graham started SafariLive in 2006. It currently broadcasts live feeds from wilderness areas in South Africa and Kenya on the internet, six hours a day. Edited content appears on the National Geographic television channel.
Dedicated followers tune in daily to follow the latest goings on, like a nature documentary unfolding in real time, said Mrs. Wallington.
With their latest project, the couple hopes to take the concept beneath the waves.
They have self funded trial broadcasts in the Cayman Islands as a “proof of concept.” They are currently attempting to raise $60,000 through Kickstarter – an online platform for crowdfunding creative projects – for a three-month pilot series in Cayman.
If the project is successful, they will look to partner with a television company and expand to other parts of the globe. Mrs. Wallington said her husband had worked as a divemaster for Don Foster’s as a teenager and fallen in love with the island.
Now in his 40s, she said, he had never forgotten the magic of Cayman’s reefs and wanted to make the islands’ ecosystem the home base for the project.
The broadcasts are led by a presenter-diver wearing a full-face dive mask that allows him to communicate underwater. Viewers post questions on Facebook, which are filtered through to the dive team beneath the surface.
She said the concept had proved very successful with safaris and there was a ready-made audience for a dive version.
“We have a huge community of people addicted to this type of thing,” she said.
She added that it had spin-off benefits for tourism and also allowed people who were physically or financially unable to travel to exotic locations to experience nature close up.
“We are not preaching to people. We are just trying to get people to fall in love with the ocean,” she added.