Unveiling the Galapagos Islands

The Catlin Seaview Survey team has just returned from the Galapagos National Park where we have successfully completed a pilot study of this icon of the natural world. The 10 day expedition was completed in partnership with locally based research and conservation bodies Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS) and communications partner Google.

The survey will allow scientists and nature lovers a rare opportunity to see the dramatic underwater world of these iconic islands online in stunning and immersive 360-degree imagery when it is released in full on Google Maps later this year.

A unique environment

The Galapagos Islands, a United Nations World Heritage Site, is an area forever linked with global scientific importance and interest given its unique biodiversity and legacy of discovery.

It was an area of particular interest to study as the Galapagos is an area that is especially vulnerable to rising ocean temperatures and acidification due to the unique convergence of ocean currents that surround these islands.

Bringing Galapagos to the world

Not too many people will ever have the chance to visit the Galapagos themselves, tourist numbers are tightly controlled and the area is already extremely remote. This is why the team were so excited to survey these waters with our SVII camera - the visual data collected will be shared with the world via Google and will allow anyone to experience diving with Galapagos sharks, rays, turtles, seals and playful sea lions through our immersive “virtual dives”.

Beautiful Imagery with a Scientific Purpose

The imagery is not only for the pleasure of armchair travellers, the data collected by the expedition will aid Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service to monitor underwater environments, especially reefs which were devastated by coral bleaching in 1982 and 1998 following El Nino events.

“Part of our mission in the Galapagos was to deploy our 360-degree underwater cameras in trials for uses in the Galapagos Marine Reserve other than coral reef monitoring,” said Richard Vevers, Project Director of The Catlin Seaview Survey.  “We carried out a range of pilot surveys to monitor sites that are heavily visited by tourists and other important habitats such as sandy seabeds. We also carried out surveys to monitor a number of key marine species, such as sea cucumbers and sharks.”

Pelayo Salinas de León, Head of Fisheries and Sharks Research at the Charles Darwin Foundation, added: “During this pilot, we have compiled an amazing portfolio of 360- degree images that will allow the entire world to take ‘virtual dives’ in the Galapagos Marine Reserve’s unique ecosystems. We believe these images will be an exceptional platform to raise environmental awareness about the importance of conserving this world heritage site among local residents, given most have never had the chance to explore what lies beneath the waves.”

Above water too

While our team were busy surveying under the sea, Google deployed a land-based team to collect content on dry land. Using the Street View “Trekker” (a 360 degree camera mounted on a special back-pack) the terrestrial team captured images and data featuring the islands equally fascinating land-based wildlife including blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises.