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WilsonReef Catlin SurveyPhilippe Cousteau on Wilson Island, Australia / Credit: Catlin Seaview Survey

Google Maps Goes Underwater

You can now go on virtual dives with Google Maps

Users can log on to Street View on Google Maps and Google Earth and explore high-resolution, 360-degree images of the reef that are being gathered as part of the Catlin Seaview Survey, which documents the health of coral reefs around the world.

'The project is as much about the engagement as it is about the science,' project director Richard Vevers said at the launch of the project in California at the Blue Ocean Film Festival in front of an audience of scientists and filmmakers that included James Cameron.

The images - there are currently 15,000 and will eventually be up to 50,000 - were captured using the world's first tablet-operated underwater camera, the SVII, which incorporates three individual cameras that sit on an underwater scooter operated by a diver.

'It's a completely unique piece of technology,' says Vevers. 'On a typical run we'll take over 1000 panoramas, which are then stitched together to produce this virtual dive experience.'

'The possibilities of what we will discover about coral reefs are almost endless,' said the project's chief scientist, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland.

'Right now, information on how these endangered ecosystems are responding to climate change is incredibly important, given that almost 25 per cent of marine species live in and around coral reefs.'

The images made available today come from the shallow reef survey, which uses technology to assess the amount of coral cover and other marine life living on the reefs. The deep reef survey, which explores reefs at a depth of 30 to 100 metres, could hold clues as to whether coral reefs can survive rapid climate change, and may even discover new species.

The imagery will be available to more than 1 billion monthly users of Google Maps around the world, as well as through a dedicated YouTube channelGoogle+ and Panoramio, a geolocation photo-sharing website. The survey was launched with a live night dive via a Google+ Hangout at the Blue Ocean film festival in Monterey, California.

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