Google’s Newest Frontier: The Ocean
By Shibani Mahtani
Wall Street Journal Southeast Asia
Coming to your computer screens soon: The Great Barrier Reef, live.
A new partnership between Google, oceanographers and Catlin Group Limited, an international insurance and reinsurance company, aims to bring clown fish, coral reefs and other delights of the Great Barrier Reef to living rooms across the world through the Internet, using technologies that capture images of the ocean depths. A prototype of the project, called the Catlin Seaview Survey, launched Thursday in Singapore.
The project is similar to Google Street View, which already brings everything from Times Square in New York to Brazil’s Carnaval to anyone with an Internet connection. But the underwater effort has an important environmental purpose, allowing scientists to document coral reefs and underwater grassland, as well as track the migration patterns of tiger sharks, sea turtles and manta rays.
Using technology that only recently became available, the images will be accessible on Google Earth and Google Maps, allowing even those who can’t swim a virtual dive in the reef. Approximately 50,000 panoramas will be available on a new Google feature called “Panoramio” which links photos to locations.
The project will also have a dedicated YouTube channel, and will broadcast Google + Hangouts, which involve group video chats, on-air – allowing viewers to watch livestreams of the expedition from the ocean floor.
Though the project doesn’t fully launch until late this year, when a full expedition to the Great Barrier Reef is complete, a sample of what to expect – including huge sea turtles swimming about amongst colorful fishes – can be viewed and tested out on the Catlin Seaview Survey’s website.
The project’s cutting-edge technologies include two robots that are able to explore unprecedented depths, beyond the range of scuba divers. Each of the robots is able to help the other one if one gets stuck between the reefs.
The designers of the project – which also includes support from scientists at the University of Queensland and a non-governmental organization called Underwater Earth – are embarking on the endeavor as a not-for-profit mission, in the hopes that the beauty of the reef will highlight the immense loss to the world if it were to be destroyed.
“We hope that the project inspires people to protect” the reef, said Jenifer Austin-Foulkes, head of Google Oceans.
“The project is very exciting – it isn’t just about papers and research, but you get to communicate this to the rest of the world,” added Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a scientist at the University of Queensland who is involved in the effort.
The project was unveiled during the World Oceans Summit, a two-day conference sponsored by The Economist magazine in Singapore that gathered global thinkers — including the president of Iceland and the president of the World Bank — to discuss how best to preserve the world’s increasingly-threatened oceans.
Published 3 years ago under Rivers to Oceans