Google is bringing the undersea world to the Internet's landlubbers.
The Web giant today launched an expansion of its Map tool to take users on an adventure that includes colorful reef fish, coral forests, and rare turtles. The goal of the program is to allow people around the world to explore the ocean while also conducting the first detailed study of the composition and health of coral reefs.
"With these vibrant and stunning photos you don't have to be a scuba diver -- or even know how to swim -- to explore and experience six of the ocean's most incredible living coral reefs," Brian McClendon, VP of Google Maps and Earth, said in a blog post announcing the feature. "Now, anyone can become the next virtual Jacques Cousteau and dive with sea turtles, fish and manta rays in Australia, the Philippines, and Hawaii."
Among the experiences available to users recorded at the Great Barrier Reef is the chance to find a sea turtle swimming among a school of fish, follow a manta ray, or witness a sunset at the reef. Virtual vacationers yearning for a Hawaiian adventure can go snorkeling in Oahu's Hanauma Bay or drift over the corral and brightly colored fish in Maui's Molokini crater.
The experience was made possible by the Catlin Seaview Survey, a partnership between the global insurance company Catlin Group Limited and nonprofit Underwater Earth. The survey used the SVII -- an underwater camera with a depth range of 100 meters -- was used to continuously capture thousands of 360-degree panoramas, giving people the opportunity to take virtual dives.