Rarotonga reef comes alive for web surfers

Thursday September 18, 2014 Written by Published in Environment
One of the unique cameras in action. 14091704 One of the unique cameras in action. 14091704 UNDERWATER EARTH - Richard Vevers

Web SURFERS in far away cities will soon get a chance to navigate the underwater reef environment around Rarotonga, along with a chance to view incredible footage of some gigantic whales.

As part of Catlin Seaview Survey, two unique cameras were recently deployed in the Cook Islands to capture images of Rarotonga’s reefs, and ended up capturing photos of whales visiting the island as they continue their migratory journey.
The footage is described as the first 360 degree panoramic imagery of whales.
Researcher Nan Hauser said the images are currently being “stitched together” and will soon appear on the project’s website, catlinseaviewsurvey.com.
“It’s like scuba diving from your home computer,” she said, adding that the Cook Islands will be the first location featured on the Seaview website to have images and video of whales.
An initiative of a number of organisations including Google and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Catlin Seaview is the product of broad concern by the scientific community over the deteriorating health of the world’s reefs.
According to those behind the project, over 40 per cent of corals have been lost over the last 30 years due to a number of factors, including; pollution, destructive fishing, and climate change.
“According to the scientific community the decline is set to continue, it will affect 500 million people globally who rely on coral reefs for food, tourism income and coastal protection,” reads a statement on the project’s website.

An international team of scientists were recently in Rarotonga to capture 360 degree imagery of Rarotonga’s reefs, and were lucky to capture images of migrating whales. 14091703


In response to the stark assessment, the Catlin Seaview Survey was launched to create a baseline record of the world’s coral reefs  “... in high-resolution 360-degree panoramic vision.”
It is hoped the footage will enable scientists to observe changes to the reefs over time, and provide information to the public and policymakers so appropriate action can be taken.
Hauser - the Director of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation – said two high definition cameras were used in Rarotonga to capture the footage. 
Each image captured has its exact location marked by global positioning system (GPS), allowing various sites to be revisited so changes can be assessed over time.
According to project officials, nearly 400,000 images have already been collected, stitched, and analysed using sophisticated image recognition.
A total 662 km of reef has been surveyed, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and sites in Monaco, the Philippines, Indonesia, Bermuda, Mexico, and now the Cook Islands.
In addition to use over the internet, one particular application of the technology has a user surrounded by a series of television screens, which transmit video images of a particular marine environment; providing a unique exploratory experience.
Hauser said it would be great to get one of the units at the recently-opened Marae Moana Marine Park Hub in Panama.
 

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