In an effort to study and document the globe’s threatened coral reefs, a three-year project
sponsored by Catlin Group Limited, an insurance company that believes environmental
changes will affect future insurance risks, is mapping and digitally archiving 375,000
kilometers (233,014 miles) of reefs in more than 50 countries.
Using underwater cameras specifically developed for the project, the team is photographing 360-degree images of the world’s coral reefs—nearly half of which have been destroyed
in the last 50 years, scientists estimate—and uploading the images to Google Earth. The
digital images are scanned by software to help scientists identify individual coral species at
an unprecedented pace.
For chief scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the
University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, speed and accuracy were paramount in the
project plan. “You’d be taking a hundred years to do this with normal divers out there with
normal cameras,” he told CNN.
In one weeklong survey of the Tubbataha Natural Reefs Park in the Philippines in March
2014, the project team documented 33,000 images in dives throughout the 332-square-
kilometer (128-square-mile) area. The park is home to approximately 360 species of corals
and 600 species of tropical fish.
PROJECT: Catlin Seaview Survey
TIMELINE: September 2012-2015
SEAVIEW SVII-S CAMERA: Takes 360-degree
photographs every 3 seconds at a speed of
4 kilometers per hour ( 2. 5 miles per hour)
“We want to reveal
Manta rays, Lady Elliot
Left: sea lions, Galapagos
the oceans of the world.”
—Richard Vevers, executive director, Catlin Seaview Survey, Sydney, Australia told Time