catlin seaview survey 2012A new state-of-the-art project is underway that will show the Great Barrier Reef in a way never seen before. Titled the Catlin Seaview Survey, the project involves shallow water, 360 degree panoramic cameras taking photos of the reef to be uploaded to Google Earth and Google Maps so the public can experience a virtual dive.

The project’s chief scientist, Australian Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, says over 50,000 panoramic images will be uploaded to boost pubic awareness of the Great Barrier Reef in the face of climate change. He says although the public may consider climate change to be a contentious issue, around 99% of scientists working in the area now treat it very seriously.

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In promoting awareness through its virtual experience, the Catlin Seaview Survey will also use dive-robots with claws to capture the images, which will document the health of coral reefs up to 100-metres in depth. The robots will also collect data and carry out surveys in areas the professor says are little studied.

Launching in September this year, the Catlin Seaview Survey will take roughly two-years to complete, and will be split into three areas – shallow reef; deep-water; and mega fauna. The shallow reef survey will be confined to 20 sites, which hopes to provide a “baseline” for understanding climate change on coral reefs.

In the deep-water survey, robots will take the charge, plunging to depths between 30 and 100 metres to collect information on the health and biodiversity of deep-water reefs. The mega fauna survey will be handled by cinematographer and shark researcher Richard Fitzpatrick. With the use of satellite tags, Richard will study the migratory patterns of tiger sharks, green turtles and manta rays in response to rising sea temperatures.

In preparation for the project, the professor says the team will focus on fitting out the dive robots while further developing deep-sea technology to withstand changes in underwater pressure. When the Catlin Seaview Survey begins, scientists will base themselves at sea for around 3-4 months, while 10-14 day expeditions are undertaken.

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At the conclusion of the project, which is a collaboration between global insurance outfit Catlin Group Limited, not-for-profit organisation Underwater Earth, and partner Google, it’s hoped it will expand to other parts of the globe so the planet’s fragile ecosystem can be better understood in the face of climate change.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg says the Great Barrier Reef is facing some serious problems, which “is why it is so important the public gets on board with this survey”.

Checkout more info on the Catlin Seaview website.