Google Maps dives underwater for Great Barrier Reef tours and more

Google Maps has added its first underwater panoramic images from six coral reefs in Australia, the Philippines and Hawaii, a project that was done in conjunction with The Catlin Seaview Survey.

The project is part of a major scientific study of the world’s reefs, and the images were taken with a specially designed underwater camera, the Catlin Seaview VII camera, a device that’s basically the underwater counterpart of Google Street View cameras. The camera takes rapid-fire 360-degree images every 3 seconds while traveling at a speed of about 2.5 miles per hour. A tablet operates the camera; there are only two SVIIs in the world.

The three-month Catlin Seaview Survey will take more than 50,000 panoramic images of the reef, and these are only the first tours to be made available online. There survey is looking at 20 separate reefs up to a depth of 100 meters, so more tours will be made available once they are processed.

You can start diving in on Google Maps in the Heron island in Australia, where you can see a sea turtle swimming among fish or check out the reef at sunset . You can also check an ancient boulder coral , likely a few hundreds years old at Apo Island, a volcanic island and marine reserve in the Philippines. You can explore the collection of underwater views here, which also features a Google+ underwater Hangout from the Great Barrier Reef.

Brian McClendon, vice president of Google Maps and Earth, said in a blog post: “With these vibrant and stunning photos you don’t have to be a scuba diver -- or even know how to swim -- to explore and experience six of the ocean’s most incredible living coral reefs.

Here’s a quick video from Google running you through the new features:

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