Do you kinda like the idea of the ocean but aren’t that wild about all that water and sand? Do you find yourself sometimes idly imagining a picturesque snorkel through a magazine-worthy coral landscape, and then remembering that one time you actually went snorkeling and accidentally inhaled a lungful of saltwater and swore NEVER AGAIN?
Then you are in luck, because the internet has brought the ocean to you, minus all the water and oogy creatures that might slime or sting or bite you.
The Catlin Seaview Survey has been taking a global census of reefs since 2012, and partnered with Google to bring the results to a monitor near you. (Grist was there at the beginning, and we’re still drooling over the footage that keeps rolling in.) The idea is that scientists will be able to study these panoramic images to — real talk — calculate how much human activities have fucked up each site. Since 40 percent of the world’s coral has been lost in just the past 30 years, this survey will serve as a baseline for any further loss or possible renewal in the future.
Meanwhile, tourists are welcome to peruse. Of Google’s various Street View stunts, this seems way cooler than exploring the badly carpeted corridors of office buildings everywhere.
See? Here’s Hanauma Bay, in Hawaii, one of the world’s most popular snorkel spots — now minus the airfare and sunrash!
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Of the 21 countries surveyed, some reefs are doing notably better than others. Here’s a lush and lovely protected reef in the Florida Keys, recently captured in all its glory by the Catlin team:
Compare that to the coral equivalent of a Walking Dead extra, Carysfort Reef, photographed off of Key Largo earlier this year:
Yeah, ick. You get a sense of what reefs stand to lose as ocean acidification, dredging, pollution, overfishing, and global warming all go to town on them over the next decades. It’a also a great argument for more marine protected areas.
But all the more reason to go ahead and take the desk tour. You can even have a mojito to get you in the mood! There are whale sharks. There’s an underwater museum. Hell, there’s the Great Barrier Reef — I’ve been meaning to get down there. No time like the present!