Mapping Coral Reefs

Google Maps is adding panoramic images of coral reefs to its Street View option, allowing web surfers to better navigate the oceans.

By | September 27, 2012

Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service" > Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife RefugeWikimedia, Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Thanks to the Catlin Seaview Survey, a project aimed at understanding the impact of global warming on the health of the world’s coral reefs, Google Maps Street View users can now browse panoramic underwater images of several reefs.

The collaboration is a win-win, according to the two parties involved. Seaview Survey director Richard Vevers hopes that hosting the data on Google Maps will raise awareness about the planet’s oceans and reefs while allowing scientists to analyze the ecosystems, looking at the impacts of pollution, fishing, and climate change, among other things. “It's about creating a global reef record—something that has been missing and something that is very much needed,” Vevers told BBC News. “We simply don't have historical records to monitor change on a broad scale. Scientists from around the world will now be able to study reefs remotely and very clearly see how they are changing.”

And Google gets some always welcome publicity. While the internet giant has previously provided computer-generated views of the sea floor, these underwater photographs are a first. “We want to be a comprehensive source for imagery that lets anyone explore anywhere,” Jenifer Foulkes, Google's ocean program manager, told the BBC. “This is just the next step to take users underwater and give them the experience of an area that most people have been to—seeing sea turtles, seeing manta rays, crazy pencil urchins and beautiful fish.”

The images, captured by a submersible vehicle and stitched together by scientists, include those of Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Hawaii's Hanauma Bay and Molokini Crater. Check these and the rest out here.

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