For years, coral reefs have faced threats from climate change and human encroachment, but many experts say the biggest problem is just how little we know about the reefs change from year to year. A panorama project called the Catlin Global Reef Record wants to fix that, taking inspiration from Google Maps to create a living portrait of the reefs that will allow scientists to track threats like bleaching or algae growth. In a little over a month, the project has logged more than 40,000 panoramas, all of which are available to the public through the project website.
The core of the project is the Catlin Seaview SVII camera, a panoramic rig designed and built specifically for the Reef Record. Controlled by a built-in Android tablet, the camera is set to take full-panorama images at three second intervals, geotagging each picture with a reading from its GPS unit. When researchers return for a second look after a few months, the GPS will direct them to the same spot, allowing for a comprehensive comparison of the two matched photos. That will give marine biologists valuable research data, but project leaders also hope that by posting the photos online, they can drive home the precarious state of coral reefs to the broader public. As the website says, "The record is not just for scientists. It is for everyone, from policymakers to the general public."