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How to use the ReefQuest Virtual Reef Activity Guide

Are you ready to take a virtual dive on the Virtual Reef?  The Virtual Reef is an innovative online tool that, for the first time ever, has imaged in high fidelity and in panoramic 3D, underwater sections of coral reefs around the world. Learn more about the Virtual Reef and how we came to build it. This Activity Guide will teach how to use and navigate the Virtual Reef taking a "virtual dive". The best part is you do not need to be SCUBA certified to take our virtual dives!


This Activity Guide is designed to be used by both teachers/educators and students. Throughout the activity certain section will be labeled ADVANCED and they are generally written for teachers or educators to gain greater depth of understanding on some of the topics. Students in 10-12 grade could read these sections if they wish to go in-depth on some of the topics.  Sections of this module identified as PREPARATION  should be done prior to engaging in the activity. Finally,  sections identified as BACKGROUND are knowledge necessary to understand the activity, and should be reviewed by all prior to undertaking the activity.STEPS marks actions you will take to actually perform this activity.


PREPARATION What will you need in for this activity?

  1. Access to the internet with the ability to view the ReefQuest Virtual Reef. This may require a browser plug-in to be automatically installed the first time, (Silverlight from Microsoft). If you are prompted to allow its installation, please do so. Verify that each computer you will be using is working correctly with the Virtual Reef, and has the plug-in installed by accessing the Virtual Reef at least once and navigating around any of the transects. Your computer(s) should also have the latest updates to the browser and operating system. The Virtual Reef has been tested with both Windows (XP or later) and Macintosh (Os X or later). The Virtual Reef does not yet work with mobile devices such as iPAD or iPHONE or ANDROID-based tablets. The Virtual Reef will work with Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Safari browsers. We have not yet tested the support of the Virtual Reef with the Chrome browser. Check the troubleshooting suggestions at the bottom of this capsule if you have any issues making the software work. 


National Education Science Standards

This activity is aligned to these National Science Education Standards. This activity is designed to be spiraling, targeted to 10-11-12 grades, however, educators can teach aspects of this activity in 8-9 grades if they interpret the background materials for their students. 


BACKGROUND What is the Virtual Reef

The Virtual Reef is a new on line experience, enabling anyone with access to the internet to virtually dive underwater to view navigable 3D panoramas of real coral reefs. Invented by ReefQuest founder, 13-years old  Dylan Vecchione,  and perfected over the course of multiple years, the Virtual Reef allows an underwater view of large sections of coral reefs using a 3D  photo montage technique that allows panoramic viewing. The technology to produce the panoramic view was developed at Microsoft laboratories and is called Photosynth. ReefQuest has developed special process to capture in high resolution large underwater transects (sections) of the reef. The Virtual Reefs offers the ability to zoom to

microscopic details as small at 1/100th of a millimeter in resolution. This resolution is sufficient to see individual coral polyps and their morphology. This is the first time than wide sections of coral reefs are documented in this manner, and the ReefQuest Virtual Reef provides a permanent documentation on the conditions of coral reefs. The color matching and resolution are such that the Virtual Reef can be used to support various scientific virtual surveys. Additionally we are updating each transect in the Virtual Reef annually, eventually enabling the study of the evolution of the reef over time. 

The initial Virtual Reef site is Kahekili Reef in Maui, HI. ReefQuest is also working with its local chapters to expand the Virtual Reef to coral reefs around the world. Currently Virtual Reefs are under development at 12 other sites, including the other Hawaiian Islands, as well as other Pacific Island locations and the Caribbean's. 


BACKGROUND What is a transect

A transect is a section of reef underwater, generally taken along a straight line. The Virtual Reef is divided into individual virtual transects. Each virtual transect has a unique identifier which also includes the year in which it was imaged, (i.e. 2011RQXXXX). One of the purposes of the virtual reef project is to see the evolution of transects over time. At the current time, the transects that are published are all from the Summer 2011, but data from prior years is being processed and over time it will appear in the virtual reef library. ReefQuest has already planned Surveys for the Spring and Summer 2012 which will also be added.  The same is true for other locations. The virtual reef is an ongoing project and we envision it always expanding as more and more ReefQuest members contribute to it. If you are interested in expanding the virtual reef, please contact us


STEPS How to access the virtual reef

The virtual reef is open to all members of ReefQuest. If you have not become a member of the ReefQuest web site do so now, by logging in or registering. Once you log in, you can access the Virtual Reef by clicking on the "virtual reef".

There are two ways to access the virtual reef transects for a virtual dive:

  1. You can select a Virtual Reef such as Kahekili, Maui from the "Virtual Reef" menu. This will bring you to a page that contains links to both geo-spacially tagged maps (=maps that contain pushpins for each virtual reef transect you can click on) and a list of transects belonging to that reef. 
  2. Option number one -- you can use the maps to access an aerial view of the virtual reef and then click on "pushpins" that represent the location of each transect. You will then be given the option to "dive in", This will activate the virtual reef transect. Keep in mind that you have now jumped out of the ReefQuest website and are using the virtual reef in Bing Maps. Your browser should have left your starting point ReefQuest window in the background and if you want to return to our site simply click on that window. 
  3. Option number two - you can select an individual transect directly from the list  hat the bottom of the  Kahekili Virtual Reef page. This will be typically the way you access the virtual reef if you are following instructions from our @School curriculum or our Virtual Surveys or once you are familiar with the various transects. 

If you are working with any one transect you will be able to follow links from it to other neighboring transects as well as go to the Microsoft Bing Maps to see the transects over-layered with a satellite or aircraft view of the reef.

Try exploring the Virtual Reef using both methods. 


STEPS How to navigate a virtual transect

Once you select a specific transect you will see a preview picture of the transect. Activate the transect by clicking on that preview picture. Remember that the 3D panoramic data loads from a server and depending on your internet speed it might take a few seconds to paint. You will note that the image gets sharper as more data is loaded. This is called progressive refinement. This will also be the case when you change view in navigation, pan or zoom in/out.


Note that the first time you load the Virtual Reef on your computer you might need to also install a browser plug-in from Microsoft, called Silverlight. If your browser needs the plug in, it will automatically load, and it might prompt you to allow its loading. Please do so. If for any reason your browser does not seem to load the Virtual Reef correctly, please refer to the troubleshooting section at the bottom of this section. 


Once the transect has loaded, you will see a set of navigation and control buttons at the bottom of the active window. The diagram below illustrates the main functions of the control buttons. 



STEPS Follow these Tips

Feel free to experiment with all of the controls and learn how the system responds to them. Note that you can pan left or right by clicking and dragging your mouse in either direction in addition to using the control arrows in the navigation bar. You can also click on the outline of each picture that makes up the 3D panorama and you will center onto that picture. Please remember that is is very important that you click on the "full screen" button, (right most control button) before attempting navigation in the virtual reef. The window, otherwise, might be too small and you might not be able to see all the available options.


STEPS The Highlights

Locations in each virtual transect that merit special attention are flagged by highlights. Each highlight corresponds to a specific location in the virtual transect and has a unique reference number. It will also prompt you with a hint or activity or question to explore at that location. You will see icons representing each highlight on the right hand side of the screen. Move your mouse over each highlight and a caption will display providing you either a description of the highlight or a reference to an activity in the @School curriculum that makes use of this highlight or a Virtual Survey. If you click on the highlight your main display window will automatically move to the location identified by the highlight and it will also zoom in/out as required to provide you with the best view of the item being highlighted.


STEPS Make your own observations

You are encouraged to note in the comments field below each transect your own discoveries and observations. If you are commenting on a specific highlight, please reference that highlight's unique reference number. Your comments will help expand the knowledge base of the virtual reef. Also review the ANSWERS menu and respond to the questions there as you go through the Virtual Reef. 


ADVANCED Partake in Virtual Surveys

If you want to collect citizen science data off the Virtual Reef, you can engage in a number of Virtual Surveys. Make certain you understand the Activity Guides with each survey. 


STEPS Try out the demo transect!

Below is a link to our demo transect. This is a transect you can use to train yourself on the navigation and capabilities of the virtual reef. Become familiar with this demo transect before moving on to the others. Have fun in your virtual dive and enjoy the beauty of coral reefs.! 


Visit the demo transect


BACKGROUND Troubleshooting & System Configuration

The virtual reef is compatible with most internet browsers and operating systems, including Mac OS (X or later) and Windows. (XP or later).  Supported browser for the virtual reef are Internet Explorer or Firefox and Safari.


Your browser will need a plugin called "Silverlight" from Microsoft. You will receive a request to automatically load it the first time you attempt to use the virtual reef. Please allow your browser to load Silverlight, it will only take a few seconds. If your system has firewalls or other restrictions that prevent you from loading the plugin please contact your network or system administrator and allow the install. Most recent windows systems, as well as recent versions of Internet explore will come pre-loaded with silverlight.  If you wish to learn more about Microsoft Silverlight click here.

If you are having trouble viewing the panoramic displays, or if the controls do not appear to respond correctly, chances are that you have an out of date or improperly installed version of Silverlight. Please try re-installing it. If the problem persists, please contact us.


If your displays appears out of focus, chances are that your internet speed is low and it is taking time to load the higher resolution image data. Allow the computer to catch up with the view you selected by avoiding further movements of the view angle until the image fully paints in. If it still does not you might want to reset your view and try it again or consider using a higher speed internet connection.


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