For most of us, the Great Barrier Reef is a bit far away for a visit in person. But a new project, the Catlin Sea Survey, will allow the public to watch every step via YouTube and other Google sites.
The aim is to improve understanding of how climate change and other environmental changes are likely to affect ocean ecosystems - and to raise public awareness.
A specially-designed camera will capture thousands of 360-degree underwater panoramas which, when stitched together, will allow people to choose a location, dip underwater and go for a virtual dive at all of the locations visited by the expedition.
Google's working on a new feature on Panoramio, which links photos to locations, and will eventually make 50,000 panoramas from the survey accessible on Google Earth and Google Maps.
The project will have a dedicated YouTube channel and the ability to broadcast ‘Hangouts’, allowing people to watch live streams of the expedition team from the ocean floor. It can also be accessed here.
"The Catlin Seaview Survey comprises a series of studies which will reveal to the public one of the last frontiers on Earth, the oceans," says Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.
"For the first time in history, we have the technology available to broadcast the findings of the expedition through Google. Millions of people will be able to experience the life, the science and the magic that exists under the surface of our oceans. This project is very exciting."
There will be three separate surveys in all: a shallow reef survey, a deep-water survey and a mega-fauna survey. Combined, they'll provide a baseline assessment of the composition, biodiversity and wellbeing of the Great Barrier Reef.
The shallow reef survey will use a custom-designed underwater vehicle with a 360-degree camera. Imagery will be assessed using image recognition software to enable a quick visual census of corals, fish and other organisms at 20 sites across the entire length of the 2,300km reef.
Using diving robots, the deep-water survey will explore the reef at depths of 30 to 100 metres with high-definition cameras, deep-diving robots and survey equipment. Little is known of the Great Barrier Reef at these depths - but they could help reveal whether the coral reefs will survive rapid climate change, says the team.
Meanwhile, the mega-fauna survey team will study the migratory behaviour of 50 tagged tiger sharks, green turtles and manta rays in response to increasing seawater temperatures.