Panoramas of a number of coral reefs were included as part of Google’s Street View maps towards the end of last year, so that browser could surf their way around these sites.
The Seaview Survey, a project looking at the reefs’ health, and the effect of global warming, collected the information in a bid to raise general awareness and assist scientists with the analysis of ecosystems.
For Google it was the first time the search giant had included underwater images within its mapping activities, although in the past it has provided computer-generated views of the sea bed.
A spokesperson said: “We wanted to take users underwater and allow them to experience an area that the majority of people have never been to, seeing everything from beautiful fish to manta rays and pencil urchins.”
Specific sites involved in the project included Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, along with a couple of sites in Hawaii and the Philippines.
The technical support for the project was provided by engineers from Google, but the photography and joining together of the images was done by scientists funded by a Bermuda-based insurance firm.
For the project the researchers devised a submersible fitted with wide-angle lenses so that high-res images could be captured in poor light conditions.
The equipment took images every few seconds to give 360-degree views as the rig moved over the reef at a very slow speed.
The aim of the project was for scientists from all over the world to be able to see how reefs are changing, and to study them. The health of various reefs in terms of species distribution can be analysed, and it will be easier to learn which of the world’s reefs are most important.
At a later point in the project the survey plans to include pictures taken from reefs close to Bermuda.
Seeing it for yourself
Of course the resulting images from the project were wonderful, but, even at their best, they cannot be a substitute for taking the plunge and seeing the world’s reefs for yourself.
Scuba diving can introduce you to an awe-inspiring underwater world, as well as giving you the sensation of feeling weightless.
And what better year to take up the activity than 2013, the 70th anniversary of the year that Jacques Cousteau and his colleague first devised the modern aqualung.
However, if you are planning on being a real rather than a virtual diver, you’ll need to look into scuba diving insurance cover. If you thought you would be covered as part of your general travel insurance, you may need to think again. And it’s important that when you sort out your diving holiday insurance, you get a policy that covers the right depth to which you will be diving. If your policy only covers very shallow depths, for example, you may need to pay more if you are diving deeper. (If anything, err on the side of caution.)
Equally, find out what excess you will need to pay if you have to claim, and, as with all insurance policies, study the small print in detail to see exactly what’s covered.