Incredible images bring Australian reefs to life

By Wes Judd October 11, 2013
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An Australian-led project has partnered with Google to record changing reef environments in 3D.

FOR NEARLY TWO YEARS, Catlin Seaview Survey – with the help of an international group of photographers and scientists – have been diving reefs across the globe to capture stunning, 360-degree panoramic images of underwater ecosystems in the name of conservation.

The Australian-based project has already partnered with Google to create “Underwater Street View” through Google’s site, and eventually hopes to capture the entirety of the Earth’s reef systems.

Last week, it launched the Catlin Global Reef Record for scientists and students.

This first-of-its-kind interactive database will provide access to the Survey’s images for use by researchers and educators. The free online hub aims to help scientists better track and understand rapid changes in the underwater environment.

Survey documents world’s reefs

To efficiently create this underwater equivalent to Google’s Street View, the Seaview Survey developed an underwater scooter/camera hybrid that is powerful enough to remain steady in strong currents.

This device, named the SVII, can take rapid-fire 360-degree images every three seconds while travelling at 4km/h. So far, it has collected over 180,000 images of locations including the Great Barrier Reef, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

“We have invented a way of revolutionising the scientific recording of underwater environments that is fast, accurate and cost-effective,” says Richard Vevers, creator of the Catlin Seaview Survey and the project director.

Scientists bring reefs to the world

Scientific studies from across the globe have reported that oceans are storing excess heat and becoming more acidic, and that this shift is damaging marine life and changing the dynamics within reef communities.

Team members of the Catlin Global Reef Record believe that this online collection, which will be continuously updated with new information as it becomes available, is an extremely important step to understanding changes affecting the underwater realm.

“Most [humans] don’t dive, and the oceans seem remote, hidden and largely unknown,” says Richard. “We are revealing the oceans to protect the oceans.”