Google’s Virtual Underwater Dives Give Stunning Views of Coral Reefs
Not everyone can visit Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in person — but now you can go for a virtual tour from the comfort of your computer screen with Google Maps’ Street View.
The ocean collection, which was unveiled last week, includes fascinating 360-degree panoramas made from thousands of photos of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as views of five other amazing underwater spots — and their marine life residents — from Australia, Hawaii and the Philippines. It’s Google’s first underwater imagery, and they can be found on both Google Maps and Google Earth. (You can take a peek in the gallery below.)
Google launched its first ocean Street View-like maps last week, and half of the first six sites are in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Here, a diver uses a specially designed camera to capture imagery of Lady Elliott Island within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Scuba-Diver's Eye View of Fish
A blenny fish gets its closeup at the Holmes Reef in Australia.
This panorama image shows the Heron Bommie, a favorite dive for many explorers of the Great Barrier Reef.
In addition to the panoramas, the Catlin Seaview Survey's team also got beautiful images of the marine life in the Great Barrier Reef, like these Christmas tree worms.
You can go for a virtual swim with the sea turtles in the reef's Heron Island.
Swimming With the Fishes
Rays of sun shine through the water on a sea turtle and a school of fish in the Heron Island area of the reef.
Lady Elliott Island
A look at Lady Elliott Island from the water, in the Great Barrier Reef.
Google’s partner, Catlin Seaview Survey, took 50,000 shallow-reef pictures using a specially designed SVII camera in a series of underwater expeditions. The maps also offer a deep-reef view, which has gorgeous images of areas that are rarely visited by people, captured using diving robots.
"This will allow the 99.9 percent of the population who have never been diving to go on a virtual dive for the first time," the survey’s project director, Richard Vevers, told NBC News.
Preserving the Reefs
In addition to the obvious cool factor, the maps will also give scientists the ability to examine the health of the reefs. The Catlin Seaview Survey’s mission is to address changes associated with rapidly warming oceans.
“Information on how these endangered ecosystems are responding to climate change is incredibly important, given that almost 25 percent of marine species live in and around coral reefs,” said Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland. Hoegh-Guldberg is the project’s chief scientist.
Those involved in the project also hope that the maps will give people around the world more of an appreciation for the coral reefs.
“You don’t have to be a scuba diver — or even know how to swim — to explore and experience six of the ocean’s most incredible living coral reefs,” said Brian McClendon, vice president of Google Maps and Earth, in a statement.