Google offers virtual Great Barrier Reef tour
GOOGLE Street View has gone off road and underwater mapping parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
From today you can dive parts of the World Heritage-listed marine park from your desk at work thanks to a team of scientists who have created a specially designed underwater camera capable of capturing 360-degree images of the Reef.
The project to map the reef is part of the Catlin Seaview Survey, launched at Monterey, California today.
Scientists will spend the next three years compiling a visual record of the worlds reefs that will be explorable by everyone via Google Maps.
Project founder and director Richard Vevers said the images would open up the reef to the world.
99.95 per cent of people can't scuba dive, it allows so many people to access the oceans for the very first time, he said.
Just three sections around Lady Elliot, Heron and Wilson Islands have been mapped so far, but by the end of December scientists will have completed surveys on 20 sections of the 2300km long reef.
We have a team in the Coral Sea at the moment doing three 2km surveys a day, he said.
It's very much a critical time for reefs and we want to cover as much as we can in the next two to three years to create a global record.
Scientists will be able to use the database to track changes in the reef over time to monitor the affects of climate change, he said.
You will be able to go back to a GPS located position and see how the coral has changed, he said.
The project will survey shallow sections of the reef up to 30m and will also use diving robots to explore never-seen-before areas up to 100m below the surface.
We simply haven't had the tools to be able to monitor that area before on a large scale, he said.
Traditional dives don't usually go below 30m.
The project has the potential to discover hundreds of new species.
During a six-day test expedition earlier this year, researchers discovered a new species of pygmy seahorse and found four types of coral never seen in Australia before.
Mr Vevers said there was already massive world wide interest with more than 1.4 million people following the project via Google Plus.
Reefs in Hawaii and the Philippines will be mapped next year.
Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef – http://goo.gl/maps/3mPy0
Lady Elliot Island, GBR: Dive in – http://goo.gl/kDcLN
Apo Island, Philippines: Dive in – http://goo.gl/maps/mfYjU
Oahu, Hawaii: Hanauma Bay: Dive in – http://goo.gl/maps/105bi
Maui, Hawaii, Molokini Crater: Dive in – http://goo.gl/maps/dRAk7
Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef: Dive in – http://goo.gl/maps/sluiY