Underwater 360-imagery is providing an insight into life on the ocean floor while offering a new way for scientists to monitor the health of the world’s reefs.
After one frustrating meeting too many selling the benefits of three-ply toilet paper, advertising man Richard Vevers decided to upend his career and follow his passion for underwater photography.
Now he is behind the pioneering design of the innovative camera that is being used to record the world’s coral reef habitats in captivating detail.
Mr Vevers, who campaigns to save the world’s coral reefs from extinction, said his motivation for the project was an unshakeable belief that many people do not engage with ocean issues simply because they have not experienced the underwater world first-hand.
“Something like 99 per cent of people have never been diving and probably never will,” he said.
“So it becomes really important to reveal marine environments because there are lots of issues going on underwater that are simply out of sight and out of mind.”
Drawing on his marketing background, Mr Vevers co-founded not-for-profit organisation The Ocean Agency and secured money from one of the world’s largest insurers to map the equivalent of Google Street View underwater.
But his sponsors wanted a marine science component as well and that is where Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute became involved.
“I didn’t know at the time that he was escaping from marketing toilet tissue. He Googled marine biology in Australia and my name came up,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
The idea was ambitious.
“I basically said to Ove, what could a scientist do with a million images underwater?'” Mr Vevers said.
“And his eyes lit up and he thought, ‘whoa, this could really transform coral reef monitoring on a global scale’.”
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg’s team developed a science program as part of the project. Together the team went on to record hundreds of thousands of images in the coastal waters of 22 countries, beginning in 2012, to measure the health of the world’s coral reefs.
Mr Vevers described the marriage of science and cutting-edge imagery as a “game-changer”.
“This is what I get out of bed for in the morning,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
“I personally love these left-of-field solutions, where a marketer meets a scientist and an insurance company comes out and sponsors them, all these people come together and suddenly out of that you have something very different.”
It has been dubbed the “Google Street View” of the ocean floor. For the first time scientists have taken 360-degree imagery underwater by mapping images of coral reefs worldwide. It’s those images that will form part of the process of identifying which reefs can be saved from extinction.🐠🐢🐟Read more: http://ab.co/2ml8bdN 'Into Hot Water' TONIGHT #AustralianStoryCREDIT: The Ocean Agency
Posted by Australian Story on Sunday, 26 February 2017
Designing a camera to film multiple images that could then be stitched together to create a 360 degree view presented multiple challenges for Mr Vevers and his team.
“No one had tried to take 360 imagery underwater while motoring along an underwater environment,” he said.
“We mount the camera on a military-grade scooter but we need to be able to change exposures as we go, so we had an underwater tablet and an underwater mouse that then controls the cameras. It’s a really sophisticated piece of equipment.”
As the divers track underwater reef contours, more than 1000 consecutive shots can be recorded. Each image is located via a GPS buoy towed by the divers
Google partnered with The Ocean Agency for the project to allow the public to explore the photos taken by the team on the Google Oceans page.
“What it means is that we can go back to that exact same location years down the track or after a major event like a big cyclone or bleaching event and we can see what’s happened to the reef and look at it at scale,” Mr Vevers said.
Using a 360 camera means that individual locations can be pinpointed after mass coral bleaching events like the one that hit the Great Barrier Reef early last year.
The information provides a valuable snapshot about the ability of coral reefs to recover from storm events and bleaching due to increased water temperatures.
“In the past what’s happened is that people have gone down to a small location and then gone back to that location to see what’s changed but they don’t know 100 metres away what’s happening and it might be vastly different,” Mr Vevers said.
The technology was used late last year when Professor Hoegh-Guldberg’s team was funded by the Federal Government to visit the previously pristine northern sector of the Great Barrier Reef.
Their task was to measure the impact of mass coral bleaching combined with and two cyclones, which had devastated coral health. Both events were devastating for coral health.
“What our results show is that 32 per cent of corals on average in these outer reef environments have been killed in the past two years,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
With predictions that 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs could face extinction by 2050, The Ocean Agency and Professor Hoegh-Guldberg
Global Change Institute last week announced a bold new plan called “50 Reefs” to “triage” the remaining 10 per cent of coral reefs that are expected to survive.
Initial funding for the plan has been provided by US philanthropists and will be used to fund a mission to identify and re-seed 50 coral reefs around the world for future generations.