Published July 29. 2022 02:45PM

Lilyanne Hess spent a recent summer afternoon swimming deep in the sea, checking out turtles and coral reefs.

“It is really strange,” said Hess, 11, of Tamaqua. “You follow the turtles. You can go through the turtles, you can go through the fish, you can go through rocks.”

She had the deep water experience thanks to one of two Oculus virtual reality headsets procured by the Tamaqua Public Library last month.

The 30 S. Railroad St. facility is the only public library to date in the state’s SPARK Integrated Library System to have the virtual reality equipment.

Patrons can “rent” them while they’re at the library.

They’re also being used heavily by Hess and other attendees of the teen “Oceans of Possibilities” summer program, along with those in the summer program for those 6 to 12.

“I was swimming in the ocean while I was in a cage,” Gavin Hess, 13, said of his experience on the headset. “I like all the games it has. There is such a variety.”

“The kids really love them,” said Amy Green, who directs children’s programs at the library.

The teen program is about conservation, and has included topics like saving sea turtles, bees, coral reefs and trees.

Youths eat lunch, enjoy virtual reality games, make crafts – and learn.

They’ve even adopted a sea turtle named Pop Tart, and they can track him as he swims in the waters around the Florida Keys.

When the teens talked about sea turtles, Green said they learned that some will die after ingesting plastic bags that float in the water.

“They think they are jellyfish,” she explained.

So, youths made their own tote bags out of T-shirts.

Norah Frey, 12, Tamaqua, uses hers – a dark green one – all the time.

“I like doing all the conservation things,” she noted.

During other meetings, they created tiny baths for honeybees and participated in a Zoom meeting with Coral Restoration Foundation officials.

“They were able to ask questions and they learned what they can do to help save the coral reefs,” Green said.

Most recently – as part of a “Save the Trees” session – they made paper from recycled paper.

“It feels flour-y,” Ava Vengen, 13, said as she mixed the ingredients together.

The group will meet once more before returning to school.

Carly Green, of Tamaqua, uses a new Oculus virtual reality headset to explore the ocean as part of the teen “Oceans of Possibilities” program at the Tamaqua Public Library. JILL WHALEN/TIMES NEWS

Ava Vengen, of Tamaqua, makes paper from recycled paper scraps during the teen “Oceans of Possibilities” program at the Tamaqua Public Library. This week’s topic was “Save the Trees.” JILL WHALEN/TIMES NEWS