Today, Google Maps unveils a new Street View feature: underwater panoramic views of six special sea spots. The idea is to create a virtual map of the oceans, documenting the state of fragile ecosystems as they change over time, and sharing a vivid experience of part of our world that few humans get to see up close and in person, in real life.
The ocean collection on Google Street View is now available at maps.google.com/ocean, and includes coral reefs and the creatures who live in them, in Australia, the Philippines and Hawaii.
The panoramic images were collected by Google's partner, The Catlin Seaview Survey (Google+). I spoke with Richard Vevers, Project Director at Catlin, and asked why the organization chose to partner with Google on this project.
"The biggest problem with the ocean is that it's out of sight and out of mind for most of us," said Vevers. "99% of people have never gone for a dive and never will. One of the biggest issues around conservation is engaging people with the ocean, and this is a powerful way to accomplish that. It is a scientific project to create a baseline for observing how the oceans are changing, but it also creates awareness of why that matters."
Jenifer Austin Foulkes, Manager with Google’s Oceans Program, says the mission is to make Google maps as comprehensive as possible by extending their reach underwater.
"There's a great quote about conservation from ocean researcher Sylvia Earle—'With knowing comes caring, and with caring, there's hope."
The images were collected over a period of six months by small teams of divers with three cameras on each underwater vehicle, capturing images every four seconds, which are then stitched together into 360º panoramas. There's more at the Catlin Survey website about the specific cameras used—the SVII camera, described as the world’s first tablet-operated underwater camera. They're using the Samsung Galaxy tablet to operate the SVIIs.
"I've been diving for a long time and this is the first project in which we've used underwater scooters with cameras mounted on the scooters," the Catlin Survey's Vevers tells Boing Boing. "It was an amazing way to engage with marine life, they really loved interacting with us. We encountered big manta rays looking at their reflections in our windows, sea turtles, and all kinds of curious creatures."
"The whole system was developed to make it simple to gather data, over three to four-day expeditions."
Sites mapped which will be available today include the Great Barrier Reef, 2 sites in Hawaii, and one in the Philippines. More locations will follow, said Vevers. "This is to give people a taste of what's to come. People tend to think of the ocean as monolithic, but these are all very different environments. Even within the Great Barrier Reef, each site is very different."
"We chose areas we believe people will be interested in, so we can really engage people in in the content, and get them to engage with and care about our oceans."
More below about the project, from a joint press release:
The first Catlin Seaview Survey expedition on the Great Barrier Reef set off on 16th September 2012.
The survey on the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea runs until the end of December and will visit 20 separate coral reefs along the 2,300km reef on an unprecedented scale and depth range – including sections of the reef that have never previously been seen or studied before. It will then continue on to selected global locations in 2013 including Hawaii, the Philippines and Bermuda.
There are two science components to the Catlin Seaview Survey: a Shallow Reef Survey and a Deep Reef Survey:
· Shallow Reef Survey: The Shallow Reef Survey will involve scientists using state-of-theart digital technology to capture approximately 50,000 360-degree panoramic images of the reef that can be linked to create a virtual dive experience. Each image will be geo-located, with automated technologies for rapidly assessing the amount of coral cover and other life forms from locations at 20 separate coral reefs along the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef. This will provide a broad scale baseline for understanding change on coral reefs.
· Deep Reef Survey: Using diving robots and other innovative instrument packages, the Catlin Seaview Survey Team will begin to explore deep water reef systems that are very rarely visited by humans, yet may hold some of the secrets of whether or not coral reefs could survive rapid climate change. Using a combination of HD cameras, deep-diving robots and survey equipment, the deep-water component will provide a comprehensive study of the health composition and biodiversity of the deep-water reefs on the Great Barrier Reef. It will also experimentally assess their susceptibility to increased temperatures and ocean acidification, which are byproducts of a changing climate. It’s entirely probable new species will be discovered in these deeper waters.
To view the Google Street View underwater panoramas, visit maps.google.com/ocean.
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: email@example.com.