Catlin Seaview Brings Underwater Reefs to Google Streeview

by Gabbie Baillargeon

Have you ever been so excited to share stories of your underwater adventures, but others never really understood your excitement for they never experienced it for themselves?  This is a problem that plagues scientists, conservationists, and ocean enthusiasts alike.  Catlin Seaview Survey is trying to mend the gap between expCatlin-Seaview-Survey.-2012.10.23_L_OSPREY_Landscapeereincing diving along coral reefs and only seeing 2-D pictures online.  Ambitiously, they have set out to capture images of the world’s major coral reefs.  Combining both technological innovation and brilliant creativity Manuel Gonzalez-Rivero a coral ecologist from University of Queensland, heads the team who works on the Catlin Seaview Survey; which aims to bring 3-D coral reefs to homes around the world.   Partnering with Google, the team of scientists hope to capture coral reefs in never before seen detail and present them to the public using Google Street View.  This trailblazing system could be a big game changer for ocean management, as it provides a wealth of empirical data previously not available.


How do you map a coral reef?

Using very specialized equipmcatlin3-537x313ent.  A specially developed camera, SVII, is unique because it is really 3 cameras mounted on a six foot long pole connected to a propeller. In order to best capture the reef there are 3 cameras facing left, right, and down.  A diver will direct the camera as it glides through the reef as each camera simultaneously snaps a picture every 3 seconds.  Then the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, CA will use incredible computer technology to the 3 layer the images into one three dimensional image – truly bringing the reef to life.

It doesn’t end there, Scripps is using facial recognition technology on the reefs to better understand what species are on the different reefs and how many there are.  Scientists can use this newfound data to analyze the health of the reef and further understand this delicate ecosystem.


What does this mean for coral reefs?

On the scientific side of things, it provides scientists with a detailed view of the coral reef structure; in addition, to a comprehensive survey of the species that inhabit the reef.  A really neat facet of this program is that the images will all be accessible on an online database that allows all interested scientists access.  This project is groundbreaking as it promotes collaboration between scientists from around the world, which leads to a greater understanding of coral reef ecosystems.  This is good news for the reefs since scientists agree that protections for reefs need to be increased, and they finally have the data to bolster their claims.

p183641136-3People living in the middle of a desert, mountains, or even a rainforest can now witness the ocean’s coral reefs in stunning detail and accuracy.  Google StreetView would give the online explorers a chance to come as close to scuba diving as possible while still in their living room.  Most will never have the privilege of diving among the world’s most valued reefs, however, now they can view them through a scuba diver’s eye using this new technology.  This pioneering technology has completed documentation of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the team is currently photographing the gorgeous reefs of Belize.  Finally, amazing reefs will be captured in even more stunning detail and brought to a truly global audience.

Check out Oceans Google Street View: