Dreaming of diving the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), but doubting you'll get there? Google has the answer, with a version of their popular "Street View" featuring more than 100,000 images of the enormous reef system.
Cruising the reef like this is a beautiful way to spend your time and just as likely to stimulate an appetite for visiting. However, there is a serious intent behind the project, helping both scientists and the general public track damage to the reef from multiple sources.
Catlin Seaview Survey. Blue coral before and after cyclone Ita.
The images were taken by the Catlin Seaview Survey, who also have some glorious pictures of other special underwater locations. Information about specific reefs is also provided.
The sheer scale of the GBR puts the project in a different league from anything Catlin have tackled before. Formed from almost 3000 individual reefs, the GBR stretches for 2300 km and hosts at least 1500 fish species, along with more than 30 marine mammals, dwarfing any other reef system in the world.
"The camera used for the survey is something that was specifically designed for this project," said Catlin's Richard Vevers. "It allows us to take full 360 [degree] images every three seconds as we're traveling along reef environments." Vevers said that Catlin plans to retrace their path regularly, tracking both long term changes from global warming and ocean acidification, and intermittent effects such as cyclones and crown of thorns starfish.
The launch coincides with global focus on the health of the Great Barrier Reef. During the G20 summit in Brisbane, President Obama told an audience at the University of Brisbane, “The incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened....I want to come back, and I want my daughters to be able to come back, and I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit. And I want that there 50 years from now.”
The comments were part of the speech focused on climate change, and have been interpreted as criticism of the Queensland and Australian governments. Both administrations are supporting controversial plans to export millions of tonnes of coal through the reef. The Queensland Premier responded that his government was “really solid on reef protection".
Local threats such as overfishing and pollution threaten the reef, but there is considerable debate about the degree among coral reef scientists. However, with half the GBR's coral cover lost in less than thirty years, and evidence of devastating coral loss during past periods of high carbon dioxide, Reef View may be the closest we can get to seeing the reef in the future.
Your own personal virtual tour starts here.