Google and the Catlin Seaview Survey want you to strap on a scuba tank and start snapping underwater pictures with your Android phone to help save the world's vanishing coral reefs.
The search giant launched its ocean survey as part of Google Earth in 2009 and late last year, the company debuted an underwater version of its Street View panoramic layer in Google Earth and Google Maps. The 360-degree mapping process is now being used by Australia-based Catlin Seaview Survey to monitor the health of coral reefs around the world.
"Most corals could die in next 40 years due to ocean acidification and the areas where corals can live are rapidly declining," said Jennifer Austin Foulkes, manager of Google Ocean.
A better scientific understanding of what's happening to coral reefs is needed, she said. So too is heightened public awareness of the problem, which is why Google has teamed up with the Catlin Seaview Survey on both the coral reef panoramic mapping project and spreading news about it through the Google+ social network.
At Google I/O on Thursday, Catlin Seaview Survey director Richard Vevers appealed to divers and developers to assist in the project. Vevers and his team use the survey's own $50,00 Seaview SVII underwater cameras on their mapping dives, but he said new 360-degree photography capabilities built into Android phones like the Galaxy S4 can replicate that work.
One major way volunteer underwater mappers can help is by going to underwater locations the Catlin Seaview Survey has already captured and snapping panoramic photos, Vevers said. That will give scientists important information about how coral reefs are holding up over time.
Meanwhile, the Catlin Seaview Survey could also use more developers working on things like software-based image recognition tools that can quickly identify reef types and species of coral, Vevers said. Supporters of the coral mapping project can learn more about it on Google+, where the Catlin Seaview Survey has actually conducted underwater video Hangouts.
Vevers and his team use a diver-operated motorized underwater scooter with three SVII cameras attached for their dives (pictured above). A waterproof tablet at the back of the scooter is used to control the cameras. The team generally conducts three two-kilometer dives per day while on a mapping expedition, generating a 360-degree photo every three seconds.
That process results in roughly 3,000 images per dive, which are stitched to together to create 1,000 panoramas of the surveyed areas.
So far, the Catlin Seaview Survey has mapped coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef and the Caribbean, and will continue working in the Americas this year before moving the project to Asia in 2014, Vevers said.
Google has released six Underwater Street View interactive maps for locations like Apo Island in the Philippines, Hanama Bay in Hawaii, and parts of the Great Barrier Reef. You can check out the basics of Google's Underwater Street View efforts in the video above.