Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It is a complex and vast eco-system that is the subject of an ambitious new project taking Google Street View underwater to photograph and map the reef in detail starting this September.
The project will use a special underwater camera capable of working at a depth of 328 feet. It will take over 50,000 360-degree panorama shots of the reef and its inhabitants that will then be made available through Google Earth and Google Maps .
Mapping the reef in such great detail has huge implications. The primary goal is to set benchmarks that will help study the effect of climate and environmental changes on this massive eco-system.
Plus, with the photos being available to anyone on Google Earth or Google Maps, it opens up a wide underwater world to those wishing to see the reef up close without having to buy a plane ticket. By making the reef come alive and charting the effects of climate changes it could help educate and inform public behavior regarding environmental issues.
An additional benefit to detailed mapping of the reef is that combined with satellite data, the added visual data could potentially help ships' captains understand and navigate through the complex coral formations off the coast. Large cargo ships headed for busy northern Australian ports have to navigate the reef and one wrong turn can run a ship aground — or worse — tear a hole in the ship spilling the contents or fuel oil onto the reef.
Clearly the in-depth visual view of the reef is a hugely valuable educational and practical tool.
The project, which some have dubbed "Google SeaView" is a collaborative effort between the University of Queensland's Global Change Institute, the Underwater Earth organization, the Caitlin Seaview Survey and Google.
Emmy-award winning cinematographer and shark researcher Richard Fitzpatrick is also getting in on the project, expected to shoot some of the imagery.
Leading the project is University of Queensland's Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who summed up its potential, "Millions of people will be able to experience the life, the science and the magic that exists under the surface of our oceans. This project is very exciting."