In 1835, naturalist Charles Darwin famously spent months exploring the Galapagos Islands and the area's incredible biodiversity. Now you can do it in a few minutes or hours from the comfort of your computer, thanks to Google Street View.
The Google Maps team traveled to the islands in May. In partnership with Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, the team trekked to 30 locations while carrying 360-degree cameras on their backs (shown at right). They walked trails, climbed into a volcanic crater, explored science laboratories and even dove below the surface of the ocean. Along the way they captured the islands' natural beauty and a host of wildlife species, including iconic Galapagos giant tortoises.
The Street View of the Galapagos actually starts where there are no streets. When you visit the site, the first place you'll visit is the waters of Floreana Island. There, deep underwater, the cameras capture a "welcoming party" of Galapagos sea lions, an endangered species that can only be found in the region.
The next stop on the Street View tour takes you to San Cristobal Island, where you can see giant tortoises in their native habitat. After that you can visit North Seymour Island, where the first sight is a stunning frigatebird, whose all-black feathers are accompanied by a bright red, balloon-like throat pouch. A later stop goes back underwater, off Champion Island, where fish and sea turtles abound.
You can also visit and explore a giant tortoise breeding center, the Charles Darwin Research Station's vertebrate and invertebrate collections, and the Wall of Tears, a massive structure built by prisoners back when Isabela Island was a penal colony.
Google also released a wonderful behind-the-scenes video showing how they created these wonderful images but also discussing the value behind the project. It turns out the information gathered this past May is not just a fun online tool. It also offers valuable scientific data. Google hopes professional and amateur scientists around the world will use the information from Street View to learn more about the unique Galapagos environment and why it is important to protect it.
The video also shows how the organizations hope to inspire people with this new tool. "Google is a critical partner for us," says Richard Vevers from Catlin Seaview Survey, which is mapping out the ocean floor and helped Google achieve the incredible underwater footage. "There's really no point to doing the science unless you do the engagement and get people aware of what's actually happening underwater. We've seen a 50 percent drop in coral coverage of the last 50 years. If we want to do something about what's going on in the ocean, we really need to take people virtual diving."
You can watch the behind-the-scenes video here: