World Ocean Explorer: A Virtual Aquarium and Exploration Experience

An ambitious new project to create a free virtual aquarium and ocean exploration experience centered around STEM-based ocean literacy for students ages 10 and up

If you ask most oceanographers and marine scientists of my generation how they became aware of and committed to their life’s work the answer seems always to come back to the undersea world of Jacques Cousteau, the first and still unrivaled television account of the exploration of the ocean worldwide, broadcast in the mid-sixties to mid-seventies, so personally communicated by Cousteau, enabled by the technology of scuba and underwater camera that changed the perception of the ocean for a generation.

That magic has continued in the form of many similar documentary products that has sustained indeed amplified interest to the point that marine science and ocean exploration have continued to grow with specific vocational interest and general public fascination. The growth of aquariums around the world during the ensuing decades is also a most remarkable outcome of this impetus. In the US alone, there are some 50 aquariums of various sizes with attendance numbering in the tens of millions. These are viewed as conservation, educational, entertainment and economic development drivers and are designed to provide access to ocean creatures, to understand ocean processes, and to use the tools of display, audio-visual technologies, special curricula, and the on-sight experience to stimulate and explain the vast ocean world. Most of us have no real encounter with the ocean at all; some of us have the privilege of access on a rare vacation; some of us must accept the aquarium as the best reality available.

The manned submersible which will take users on dives to a polar sea, a tropical coral reef, a hydrothermal vent, an environmental disaster site, or a submerged cultural artifact. Users can maneuver to observe, to collect samples and data, and export findings for the classroom.

Beyond television, the Internet has also become a means to provide access to the underwater world. Various private research organizations are now making their research expeditions available, sometimes in real time, through internet broadcasts streamed to screens tablets and phones. In addition, other underwater vehicles, robots and fixed research technology are enabling public access to data and visualization that was impossible even a few years ago. In many cases this distribution of ocean information is accompanied by a personal narration: the voice of the scientist or operator describing and exclaiming, much as Cousteau did to humanize the experience.

What’s next? How can we maximize the technology, organize the information, and present it in a format that is open to all participants, structured for teaching and learning, and maintaining the enthusiasm for knowing and feeling the miracle of the ocean world?

Last week, the W2O launched a crowdfunding campaign for the completion of a virtual aquarium and exploration experience. Called WORLD OCEAN EXPLORER, it combines a simulated visit to an aquarium that displays creatures that physical aquaria cannot, linked to detailed scientific explanation. Further linked to STEM-based standards for ocean literacy. It also recreates a submersible vehicle that any participant can maneuver to observe, to collect samples and data, and to research various ocean habitats: coral reefs, a deep ocean vent, an underwater accident, or a submerged cultural artifact for example.


It is not as sensual or vivid as being in the ocean itself; it is not of the physical scale of a 400 million dollar aquarium space, but it will cost nothing to enter, and it will provide comparable information and simulation of an expeditionary experience available to classrooms, home schools, environmental organizations, other educational institutions, and curious individuals worldwide. It will be a virtual aquarium without glass walls, without fees, and without the physical and programmatic limitations of aquariums that have gone before. It will be a powerful educational, and informational tool for public engagement. Above all, it will be a democratic place, as wide, deep and dynamic as the ocean itself. We are inviting each of you to help us build it, by going to our Kickstarter campaign and to make a contribution in any amount to our construction goal. It will be your aquarium, your expedition, your science, your experience, your investment. I urge you to join WORLD OCEAN EXPLORER; together as world ocean aquanauts we can share the wisdom, promise, and magic of the ocean and its connection to us all.

Learn more and support EXPLORER today by visiting our Kickstarter campaign


WORLD OCEAN EXPLORER is an educational gaming experience, free for use in the classroom and at home by ocean enthusiasts ages 10 and up. Simulate a walk through a deep ocean aquarium, find marine species rarely seen; engage with ocean systems; click through to educational content and curriculum; and board a manned submersible for exploration of a variety of ocean environments. Aboard the submersible, complete goal-driven mission scenarios or conduct free-play explorations. Choose a locale: a polar sea, a tropical coral reef, a hydrothermal vent at the deepest depths of the ocean, a shipwreck on the seafloor, an oil spill at an offshore rig…all the while gathering samples and data for use in the classroom! <<LEARN MORE>>