Celebrate World Oceans Day as a Virtual Fish

A new app called theBlu is like 'The Sims' for the underwater set.

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It’s no secret the entire world is connected. Our endless technological advancements allow data to beam across the world in an instant. The rapidly flourishing economy lets businesses operate the same way in both Canada and Cambodia. We forget, though, that one network has linked every creature on Earth since the beginning of time: the oceans that cover more than 70% of our planet’s surface.

Each June 8th since 1992, World Oceans Day has helped put the focus back on the seven seas. Officially recognized as a holiday by the United Nations in 2008, it’s meant to call attention to the importance of reducing pollution and combating global warming in order to save the uncountable species that live below the surface. And this year, one company is making it easier to peek into the watery trenches from the comfort of your own couch.

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TheBlu is a computer app that attempts to bring the immensity of the oceans to our computer screens. It’s the brainchild of Neville Spiteri, a digital media programmer who’s worked on Hollywood films and major video games. But now he’s turning his focus away from those recreational activities and onto humanitarian efforts. TheBlu — a project by Wemo Media, the company Spiteri created with business partner Scott Yara — tries to do for the ocean what the TV series Planet Earth did for, well, the rest of the planet.

TheBlu allows you to explore the sea depths in detail, just as an ocean dweller would – not least because you’re morphed into a virtual fish and can swim around to different habitats around the world. A la The Sims, theBlu is a social game that allows you to interact with friends – whether you’re swimming solo as a clownfish or part of a school of sardines. Just beware of the shark swimming into your territory – you might be chased away.

The stunning ocean visuals fuse art and science: artistically-inclined users can design their own fish and landscapes, while programmers and oceanographers have already added a few elements. TheBlu contains a topographically-correct California Kelp Forest, with input from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and help from Andy Jones, an Academy Award-winning animator who worked on Avatar.

The app launched a month ago but hopes to use World Oceans Day to help find its sea legs. “Think about the Olympics or the World Cup, there’s potentially hundreds of millions of people sharing one moment,” Spiteri told TIME.

In promotion of the holiday, the game’s creators asked the OceanElders — a group of global leaders, including Ted Turner and Queen Noor of Jordan, to help promote ocean conservation by adding their own creatures to theBlu’s biosystem. Turner asked for a hammerhead shark, and Queen Noor ordered up a blue whale. And if you see a Bluefin tuna gliding through, say hi. It could be Richard Branson.

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