Stunning Undersea Panoramas Now on Google Street View

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(CNN) — Google Street View, the interactive panorama feature within Google Maps, has shared eye-level images of Antarctica, gone inside NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, floated down rivers in the Amazon and strolled the halls of famous museums.

Now the company is going underwater. The company on Wednesday added panoramic undersea images of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the waters off the Apo Islands in the Philippines and underwater life around the Hawaiian islands.

The stunning photos capture fish, plants, turtles and other marine critters going about their business in faraway oceans. Now anyone can get an immersive view of the seas without getting wet or worrying about the bends. Zoom in to check out a manta ray’s belly, join a school of fish or study intricate coral up close.

The photos are part of a partnership with the Catlin Seaview Survey, a series of studies focused on documenting the world’s reefs using 360-degree images. Catlin and Google hope the images will help educate people about the oceans and the decline of reefs.

The images will also be useful to scientists studying the effects of climate change by documenting reefs so it’s possible to determine the impact increased water temperatures and acidity will have on the areas over time.

Google has used cars, trikes, snowmobiles and people outfitted with custom cameras to capture 360-degree images around the world. For this project, the images were taken by a camera custom-designed for the Catlin Seaview Survey, the SVII, whose design was inspired by sharks. The rapid-fire camera can be controlled by a tablet in watertight housing, and it records GPS data as well as the exact angle at which the photo was taken.

To capture images at greater depths, between 30 and 100 meters (about 98 to 328 feet), the group plans to send down special remotely operated vehicles outfitted with remote-controlled digital single-lens reflex cameras.

The Street View (perhaps Reef View?) ocean project was first announced in February. Since it launched in 2007, Google Street View has captured 20 petabytes of data in 48 countries. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 95 percent of the ocean is still unexplored.

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