Using Google Street View to Study the Great Barrier Reef

The Catlin Seaview Survey is a Google and University of Queensland project using a nifty underwater camera rig to create a zoomable, 360-degree image of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Destin from SmarterEveryDay got to hitch a ride with the team that records this sea-floor Street View. Every step of the way, the project uses some seriously cutting-edge tech.
The team pilots a motorized camera rig that mounts three cameras for a 360-degree view of the sea floor, and records nearly a mile of the floor at a time. Tallying up the different coral species seen in this snapshot, and the condition of each individual organism, would take eons for a human.
So the team uses a form of facial recognition software that they’ve taught to recognise the different coral species, they say it’s similar to Facebook’s algorithm, except instead of finding your mug in your friends’ photos, it tells scientists which species are where on the ocean floor, and the relative health of each region of the reef.
The best part is, you can scroll through the underwater Street View map yourself. It’s mesmerisingly beautiful, like a gorgeous alien world hidden beneath the waves. And that’s the point.
As Destin explains, the scientists in charge of Catlin’s Global Reef Record want everyday people to glimpse the beauty of the world’s coral reefs. The thinking is, once you’ve seen these tranquil, living ecosystems, and appreciated their beauty, you’ll be inspired to help the efforts to save and protect them.