‘Find Tahoe Tessie’: Environmental research center develops app to find mythical creature

The app allows users to place Tahoe Tessie in the real world.
Provided / Alison Toy, TERC

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Tahoe Tessie isn’t real but climate change is.

That’s the tagline for “Find Tahoe Tessie,” an augmented reality game app developed by UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

Players of the games become scientists in search of Tahoe Tessie. Throughout the game, players find scientific tools that can be used for lake experiments, explore Tahoe through local excursions, and apply scientific knowledge that will help find Tahoe Tessie.

“We worked with a technical advisory committee of ecology experts and education experts from various museums to come up with the best way to teach climate change at Lake Tahoe,” said TERC Education and Outreach Director Heather Segale. Segale served as team lead for the app development project.

They were looking for a way to teach about climate change that’s fun and approachable. 

Throughout the game, players can find and collect multiple Tahoe Tessies. Once she’s been collected, she can be placed anywhere in the real world, using AR technology. 

“The idea is that she’s lovable and adorable and you care about her and you see that she’s impacted by the warming waters, that it’s actually slowing her down and causing her harm,” Segale said. “This is true for other aquatic organisms in the lake such as the trout or the different zooplankton … it’s based on all real science.”

There are many scientific discoveries to be made throughout the app.
Provided / TERC

While the game was developed with third through fifth graders in mind, Segale thinks even adults can learn something and can have fun playing with Tahoe Tessie. 

TERC is currently in the middle of a soft launch, during which they are asking locals to use the app and report back how the software is working on various devices. 

It will officially launch in May. When it launches, there will be a photo contest of people putting their Tessie out and about in the real world. 

The app was made possible by a donation from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Center for Behavior and Change helped TERC with the word in the app to make the best impact.

“Bottom line is that, yes, [climate change] is a big problem but we can make the problem way less bad by acting and there’s easy things to do to make a big difference,” Segale said. 

To learn more and participate in the beta test, visit

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