WATCH: Google Street View Lets Users Virtually Dive the Great Barrier Reef

Google Street View, in partnership with the Catlin Seaview Survey, have unveiled the first ever underwater panoramic images, allowing users to virtually explore one of the world's great natural wonders.

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While Apple continue to fiddle with their badly received maps application, Google Maps seems to be going from strength to strength. So much so that the Street View feature, launched in 2007, is now being expanded to allow viewers to dive into oceans, swim with the turtles, and generally nose around one of the world’s great coral reefs.

On Wednesday Google launched its eagerly awaited inaugural underwater panoramic images on Google Maps. Depending on how cynical you are, this is either an invaluable tool for opening inaccessible parts of the world to help scientists and perhaps inspire future Jacques Cousteau, or part of some as-yet unrevealed plan to document every geographical square meter of the planet for their own nefarious ends.

(MOREScientists Find That Climate Change Stalls Reef Growth)

Whatever your spin on it may be, the new feature is undeniably the best thing to hit Street View since the search giant captured panoramic views of Antarctica in 2010. Partnering with the Catlin Seaview Survey, which aims to make the underwater world accessible to a wider audience as well as study the effects of climate change, users will be able to take a ‘virtual dive’ on the Great Barrier Reef.

(MORE: Google Street View Goes to Antarctica)

Using the world’s first tablet-operated underwater camera, the Google team is in the process of putting together up to 50,000 high-definition panoramic images of the reef. Underwater panoramic images will also be available for other destinations such as Hawaii and the Philippines.

So far you can see scenes such as snorkelers swimming along in the waters of Hawaii’s Hanuama Bay, the ancient boulder corals by Apo Island in the Philippines and manta ray swimming in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. More virtual dive images will be added as scientists collect mappings of 20 different reefs along the Great Barrier Reef’s 2,300km system.

(MORE: Saving Nemo? Clownfish Could End Up on Most Endangered Species List)

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