Richard Vevers traded a career in advertising for a “wetter” job as an underwater photographer in Australia. As a landlocked teenager growing up in Bromley, England, he was fascinated with the idea for years. He has certainly come a long way since then. Thanks to a partnership between Google Street View, he and his team at Catlin Seaview Survey are responsible for creating “the most viewed underwater imagery of all time.”
In the past, Google has gone to great lengths to provide the everyday user with incredible views of some of the most beautiful and historic locations around the world. With its advanced Street View technology, netizens can now get a glimpse into places that were once inaccessible to the general public – from the Teotihuacan and Chichen monuments in Mexico to the beautiful sands of Abu Dhabi’s Liwa Oasis.
But this project, in particular, is special for several reasons.
“I saw that there were a lot of issues going on underwater that were out of sight and out of mind,” said Vevers. “I saw that as an advertising issue. Our solution was to reveal the ocean and let the conservation organizations do the rest.”
Starting from Australia, Vevers and his team set out to capture gorgeous, immersive, 360° images of all six major global coral regions, using a Catlin Seaview camera rig modeled after the Streetview Trekker mounted camera. In one day, seaview divers routinely cover up to 2 kilometers of waters and generate about 3,000 panoramic images in the process. They will eventually be used as baseline data to monitor degradation over time.
Although only a small portion of the best photos are uploaded to Google Street View, all are processed into the Catlin Global Reef Record, which is open for use by any marine manager or ocean researcher.
Of the project, Vevers has stated, “We started off with coral reefs because we’ve lost 40 percent in last 30 years, and because of the effects of climate change, it’s not likely to slow down…This will give us an incredible, unprecedented baseline to measure change. These environments will be hit more and more by storms and bleaching events. It’s the recovery that is so critical.”
With this goal in mind, Vevers’ team is also currently developing an autonomous underwater vehicle to be deployed by 2017, which will cover even more of the ocean in less time.
“These AUVs can stick to a meter and a half above the seafloor and hover at one knot. They could cover 12 kilometers in a day, which would scale the project significantly.”
The technology will certainly help the team as they progress on their journey. Since its launch in Australia, the project moved on to the Caribbean, and this year, the divers will continue on in the Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia before diving in the India Ocean, followed by the Red Sea, and finally the Pacific. In the process of photographing the reefs, Vevers and his squad have also captured some of the world’s most incredible underwater wonders, including the Underwater Museum of living sculptures off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, the Antilla Shipwreck off Aruba, and the Christ of the Abyss off Key Largo, Florida.