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Photo of whale tail near a ship

Capturing the Florida Keys, in 360 Degrees

By Maya Walton
NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellow

I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit beautiful Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for a high-tech research expedition in collaboration with the Catlin Seaview Survey and Underwater Earth.

There are three things about marine science that never fail to get me excited: 1. corals (my favorite animals!), 2. scuba diving (how cool is being able to breathe underwater?!), and 3. using new gadgets for research. This project had all three! Plans for the week had us visiting sites with critically endangered coral species and using cutting-edge camera systems and underwater scooters to document this special place.

Sharing marine science and coral reefs with the world

One of the things I love about the work that we do in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is that, in addition to our scientific research, we also work hard to share our experiences underwater with people across the country and around the world. The folks at the Catlin Seaview Survey share a similar science and community engagement philosophy, using high-resolution imagery to bring the world beneath the waves to the public.

photo of a whlae near a ship

NOAA diver Mitchell Tartt photographs endangered elkhorn coral using a specialized 360° camera system. View the full gallery.

The team kicked off the mission by capturing underwater photos of Hen and Chickens Reef using Catlin Seaview's unique tripod camera system, which produces photos that can be stitched together to make panoramic and 360-degree images, the kind you see in Google Street View. And that's exactly where they will end up! Through a partnership with Google, anyone with a computer and internet access can experience the underwater world of the Florida Keys through the eyes of a scuba diver.

360° Google Street View images:

"Christ of the abyss" underwater statue

FUI Aquarius Reefbase

Coral Restoration Foundation's coral nursery


photo Catlin Seaview's unique tripod camera system

Catlin Seaview's unique SVII camera system. View the full gallery.

Capturing images for conservation

Beautiful seascapes weren't the only thing we captured during the mission. The specialized camera systems mounted on Catlin's underwater scooters collected important data on the sanctuary's reefs, which will be added to a global database of coral reefs. To date, the Catlin Seaview team has been to more than 20 countries and photographed upwards of 5,000 kilometers of coral reef on their surveys!

photo of a diver capturing a christ statue in the keys

Diver capturing "The Christ of the Abyss" statue in the Florida Keys. View the full gallery.

My trip to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary was filled with special moments that I will never forget. This was my very first time seeing Caribbean fish and corals up close, and some of my favorite critter encounters from the trip included seeing the critically endangered elkhorn coral, Acropora palmata, and hearing the boom of the resident Goliath Grouper at the Aquarius Reef Base. But even more than that, it was so rewarding to be a part of this effort to share this special place with the world, and to play a role in helping better protect its precious coral reefs for the future.

photo of a diver capturing aquarius reef base

Diver capturing Aquarius Reef Base. View the full gallery.


Click on the images below to take a look at the waters of the Florida Keys in a panoramic view.

Panorama view of florida keys

Panorama view of Florida Keys waters. Credit: NOAA/ONMS/Walton

Panorama view of florida keys

Panorama view of Aquarius reef base buoy waters. Credit: NOAA/ONMS/Walton


More Information:

Photo Gallery

Panoramic View: Florida Keys Above Water

Panoramic View: Florida Keys Above the Water

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

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