The Great Barrier Reef is to be scanned using Google’s 360 degree photographic mapping technology to record the details of the world’s largest living structure for posterity and science.
It’s a pretty cool looking thing – a bit like the training drone that harasses Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, but with a big thruster stuck on the end of it.
With 93 per cent of the famous coral reef too deep for most divers, no-one knows how it is coping with changing ocean conditions. Underwater robots and deep-diving specialists will use technology similar to Google’s Street View to start surveying the reef in September.
“We’ve got to start laying down a baseline of what’s there today so we know what’s changed tomorrow,” said the project’s chief scientist, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland when I talked to him at the Global Ocean Summit in Singapore.
The project will initially survey 20 sites from the surface to a depth of 100 metres. Sharks, manta rays and other large migrants in the areas will be tagged to start building a picture of how they use the reef, says Professor Hoegh-Guldberg.
Called the Catlin Seaview Survey, the project is sponsored by Google and aims to make the reef visible to anyone with access to the internet. The team hope one day to be able to automate not just the imaging, but also the identification of species.