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The Last Coral Reef

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Coral reefs are long considered the rain forests of the ocean. The Caribbean has lost 80% of its coral cover over the past 50 years. Marine scientists have been looking for methods to protect coral reefs, when it’s deteriorating at an unthinkable speed. But ocean exploration is expensive, difficult and time-consuming, even in the relatively shallow coastal waters where most reefs are found. Seaview Survey, a scientific expedition that is assessing major threatened coral reefs worldwide, is able to take advantage of new advances in video and computer analysis to produce a long, sustained look at the oceans, essentially digitizing the seas.

The photographs taken by the advanced custom-made underwater camera can be digitally combined to create panoramic and three-dimensional image images that reveal the underwater world with striking depth and clarity. Later, computers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography would analyze the pictures, giving scientists a quick diagnosis of the health of the coral reef. What’s long been possible on land, thanks to satellites scanning jungles and deserts, is now feasible under the sea.

Seaview has also partnered with Google to put many of those images online as part of Google Ocean’s efforts to take its Street View program–which shows ground-level photographs from around the world–beneath the waves.

Over the next several years, Seaview expects to cover the Caribbean, the Coral Sea in Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, producing hundreds of thousands of underwater images along the way.

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