In the same way you’ve been able to virtually walk around a New York City block using Street View, you can now ‘swim’ through a coral reef off the coast of Australia.

THIS NEW ELEMENT of Google Maps was launched at the 2012 BLUE Ocean Film Festival to a community of undersea filmmakers, photographers, scientists, educators, and conservationists. The event featured talks by iconic ocean explorers like Dr. Sylvia Earle and Captain Don Walsh.

“With Street View in Google Maps we have gone to seven continents, including Antarctica where you can go into Scott’s Hut; you can go down the Amazon River and to the Arctic,” said the manager of Google Ocean, Jenifer Foulkes. “And now we are taking you underwater to 6 locations in the world with Caitlin Seaview Survey.”

The Catlin Seaview Survey is a partnership between the global insurance company Catlin Group Limited and the nonprofit Underwater Earth. Thousands of 360-degree panoramic images were collected by CSS using a revolutionary new camera system, the SVII, and stitched together by Google Maps to take Street View underwater.

Richard Vevers and Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, from the Catlin Seaview Survey, spoke on the scientific significance of the survey, stating a major focus “is to record reef environments on an unprecedented scale and reveal them to the world.”

It’s about creating a global reef record — something that has been missing and something that is very much needed. We simply don’t have historical records to monitor change on a broad scale. Scientists from around the world will now be able to study reefs remotely and very clearly see how they are changing.

To conclude the launch, the Catlin Seaview Survey hosted a Google+ hangout with a night diver from Australia. During this 10-minute virtual session, the audience observed nightlife on the reef, including a turtle swim-by.

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