Google Street View For Coral Reefs


Ever wish you could dive the reefs of Hawaii and the Great Barrier Reef in the same day.  The Catlin Sea Survey project that we wrote about a few months back has started to publish their images through Google’s familiar Street View portal.  The Sea Survey project is going to be the first immersive collection of fly through images of the worlds coral reefs down to a depth of 100meters.  The Sea Survey team has spent the last year or so testing the diver driven under water photo scooter that enables this amazing view of the reefs.  As they get ready to ramp up their photo taking, they have posted some of their first views from a few famous reefs around the world including Heron Island and Molokini crater in Hawaii.


Google Reefview

Catlin Sea Survey Project

The Sea Survey project has been a joint venture between a few different corporate and scientific partners.  The Catlin Group who is the major funding source for this project is a large insurance/risk conglomerate based out of Europe.  This is the 4th global expedition Catlin has sponsored and the first that wasn’t in the Artic.  Google has played a partner in this project as well, having the amazing images the Sea Survey team has gathered posted in the “oceans” section of google maps.


How Does The Catlin Seaview Camera Work?

The first 300 ft of ocean of ocean contains over 90% of the marine organisms that live there so the results of this expedition should create some unique images.  Specially designed cameras will capture these images from multiple angles which will then be put together through software to represent the final images that we see on the internet.  The SVII camera is the latest prototype and will take a 360-degree, geo-located panoramic image every 4-6 seconds while traveling at a speed of 2.5 mph.  Perhaps we will see the SeaView II capture some animals off guard or doing unique things like we have seen the Google Street View vehicles do only under water.


Future Coral Reef Research

The data that these camera’s are capturing are going to be helpful to the general public as well as the scientific community.  The high resolution images that will be gathered will enable scientists to get a close up view on a particular stand of coral and even down to a coral head, enabling research to be conducted from far away.  The average Google surfer will also be able to see a wide array of marine life which can only help enhance peoples’ concerns for these fragile ecosystems.  The term out of site, out of mind can really no longer be used as an excuse for coral reef neglect when you have a sea turtle staring you in the face!

While the current phase of the project requires divers to coast through the coral reefs with the camera, next phase will focus on unmanned ROV’s that will be autonomous and capture the remaining 90% of the reefs from 30ft-300ft.  Who knows, in the near future, we may see these ROV’s be able to surface, charge their batteries via the sun, and upload their imagery before returning down below to retrieve another round of  reef footage.

Have you dove any of the reefs that are being published?  Notice any differences in the corals since you were there?