Example virtual reality scene.

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Oceans support all life on Earth. Yet for many, oceans remain out of sight and, therefore, out of mind. Knowing, understanding, and caring for the oceans is considered essential for supporting sustainable interactions with our blue planet. In this study, we test whether experiencing future scenarios builds empathy for the oceans. Participants (N=269) were presented with an optimistic or a pessimistic future scenario for the high seas in a virtual reality or written format. The optimistic scenario describes a future of environmental sustainability and social equality, while the pessimistic scenario describes a world dominated by resurgent nationalism, regional conflicts, and environmental degradation. The scenarios can be viewed online by searching for ‘The high seas in 2050’ and are best experienced through the YouTube app on a smart phone. Results showed that post-test empathy levels were significantly higher than pre-test levels. In other words, future scenarios fostered ocean empathy. We also find that the pessimistic scenario resulted in higher empathy compared to the optimistic scenario. Finally, we found no significant difference between the virtual reality and written conditions. As one of the first studies to demonstrate the influence of an intervention purposefully designed to build ocean empathy, this article offers a novel approach for supporting ocean sustainability.