Google Maps has added the first underwater panoramic images as it aims to provide the most comprehensive map of the world.
Google has teamed up with the Catlin Seaview Survey to capture images of the world's coral reefs and share them through the Street View feature of Google Maps.
The Catlin Seaview Survey used a specially designed underwater camera, the SVII, to capture photos of the Great Barrier Reef by taking up to 50,000 images collected through continuous high-resolution, 360-degree panoramic imagery.
The images collected by the SVII, also the world's first tablet-operated underwater camera, were then stitched together, allowing Google users to chose a location and go for a viewer-controlled "virtual dive" in Google Maps.
“The Global Reef Record is a game-changing scientific tool that scientists around the world will have at their fingertips,” said Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland.
“They will be able to monitor change in marine environments now and in the future.
“Marine scientists researching any aspect of the reef will be able to study these environments from any of the surveys we conduct – Shallow Reef or Deep Reef.”
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg added that all the scientific data gathered would be made public in a Global Reef Record database.
Google wrote on its official blog that now anyone could “become the next virtual Jacques Cousteau and dive with sea turtles, fish and manta rays in Australia, the Philippines and Hawaii.”
“Starting today, you can use Google Maps to find a sea turtle swimming among a school of fish, follow a manta ray and experience the reef at sunset,” it added.
“We are partnering with the Catlin Seaview Survey to make this amazing imagery available to more than one billion monthly users of Google Maps across the world,” said Jenifer Austin Foulkes, manager of Google’s Oceans Program.
“Together we want to make these special underwater locations as accessible to people as the roads and landmarks they explore in Google Maps each day.”
See Google's underwater collection featuring a Google+ underwater Hangout from the Great Barrier Reef
Explore more imagery from around the world by visiting Google Street View