You’re probably already familiar with Google Street View as the life-saving tool that makes sure you find that obscure Thai restaurant on a first date, helps you strut like a local through foreign cities or feeds your fantasy of exploring Paris’ Marais district.
But there’s a feature few know about that lets your curiosity plunge to new depths, literally.
Google has an underwater version of Street View , offering users the chance to explore the ocean’s floors through high-resolution, 360-degree tours of 19 beautiful locations — from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the shoreline of San Francisco.
The project stems from a partnership between the Internet giant and the Catlin Seaview Survey , a major study of the world’s reefs. Its aim is not only to expand Google’s reach but to help raise awareness about the fragile state of our oceans.
“The biggest problem with the ocean is that it’s out of sight and out of mind for most of us,” says Richard Vevers, project director at Catlin. “One of the biggest issues around conservation is engaging people with the ocean, and this is a powerful way to accomplish that.”
With these vibrant and stunning photos, you don’t have to be a scuba diver — or even know how to swim.
Street View’s “Oceans” will help scientists monitor the health of coral reefs around the world by giving them a point of reference so that, in the future, they can go back to the same spots and see how much of the coral has died since the initial takes. But it also allows users — from professional scuba divers to landlubbers — to discover the beauty under the ocean’s surface, swim with whale sharks in Isla Contoy or explore mysterious shipwrecks.
“Now, anyone can become the next virtual Jacques Cousteau,” says Brian McClendon, VP of Google Maps and Earth, on Google’s official blog.
The breathtaking images are captured by the Project Catlin Team, using three 360-degree cameras attached to underwater scooters, which take pictures from different angles to produce a panoramic seascape. Unlike humans, sea creatures seem to have no privacy concerns and, according to the divers, manta rays and turtles find the reflective parts of the equipment particularly intriguing.
Starting in 2012, Google has mapped some of the world’s most stunning underwater scenery, including Larvotto Marine Reserve in Monaco; Rocher Saint Nicolas in France; Santa Rosa Wall and Columbia Deep in Mexico; as well as the Galapagos Islands. And the company plans to broaden the offering to include locations such as Sydney Harbour and Indonesia’s Coral Triangle.
So if you’re trying to find Nemo, stop surfing the Net and dive right in.
Why you should care
Because it’s possible to explore the ocean’s depths without so much as getting your feet wet.