'Underwater Streetview' to help understand coral reefs

19 August 2013
By Tereza Pultarova
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Google and the Catlin Seaview Survey have started the underwater seaview project this year to monitor world's coral reefs

Google and the Catlin Seaview Survey have started the underwater seaview project this year to monitor world's coral reefs [Credit: Google]

Australian researchers are gathering data about the state of world’s coral reefs using a new Google platform dubbed 'Underwater Streetview'.

By relying on the new platform launched by Google Maps this year in cooperation with the Catlin Seaview Survey, the team led by Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland, aims at engaging the public to help gather information about the state of coral reefs affected by climate change.

“Only 1 per cent of humanity has ever dived on a coral reef and by making the experience easily accessible, the survey will help alert millions of people around the world to the plight of coral reefs,” said Professor Hoegh-Guldberg.

Google’s underwater streetview format uses 360° panoramas captured by a special camera built by the Catlin Seaview Survey researchers. Using this technology, the team of Professor Hoegh-Guldberg has already mapped Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in great detail. Together with computer-based recognition tools, the platform enables the researchers to automatically assess the creatures on the seabed.

“This new technology allows us to rapidly understand the distribution and abundance of key organisms such as corals at large scales. Our expeditions in 2012 to the Great Barrier Reef recorded over 150 km of reef-scape using these methods,” he says.

Apart from speeding up the data-gathering process, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg believes that encouraging the public to take part in the project would help to spread awareness about the dangers coral reefs are facing. “We are planning to involve online citizens to help us count a wide range of organisms that appear in the high-definition images. Anyone with access to a computer will be able to help us log creatures such as stingrays, turtles, fish and Crown of Thorns starfish,” he said.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg will present the projects and its findings at the Intecol conference – the world's largest ecology meeting – in London on 20 August 2013.

According to recent findings, the world’s coral reefs are suffering from high carbon dioxide levels and rising sea temperatures to which they fail to adapt. The results of computer simulations suggest that even the mildest climate-change scenario might prove lethal to these precious bio-systems.

“Worse still, our results show that even under the most moderate climate-change projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, most corals will struggle to survive and reefs will rapidly decalcify,” said Hoegh-Guldberg.

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