Google's Street View Internet mapping technology, offering 360-degree sights of almost street anywhere in the world, is going underwater off the coast of Florida, researchers say.

U.S. government researchers are experimenting with specialized lenses in the waters of the Florida Keys, hoping to apply "street view" map techniques to aid research efforts and management planning involving marine sanctuaries around the U.S.

The technology has already been utilized to produce 400,000 underwater images of reefs of the Caribbean and off Australia, but the current effort is the initial test of the technology in U.S. ocean waters, officials at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration say.

Some of the images will be available online, and given their own section on Google Maps, allowing the public to witness ecosystems still difficult and costly to explore.

"This allows people who can't get underwater to understand what we mean by putting up a special preservation area around this particular spot," said Mitchell Tartt of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

The underwater cameras utilized feature the same triple-lens technology Google uses to gather its Street View data of city neighborhoods on dry land.

While mounted on cars for land use, the 143-pound cameras taken underwater are driven through the sea with small motors while being guided by scuba divers.

The panoramic cameras can record images of an area 20 times as large as what traditional underwater photography can manage, while recording GPS data.

Images can be quickly stitched together to create panoramic 360-degree views.

Marine scientist say the new views will help illustrate the successes or failures of efforts to restore coral reefs and help researchers analyze the effects on those reefs of rising ocean temperatures, pollution and storms.

The cost of the cameras and the training for NOAA scientists is being borne by a partnership between NOAA and the Catlin Seaview Survey, which is funded by the global insurance company Catlin.

Google is also a sponsor of the project.

The corporate sponsorship means there is consistency in training, equipment and resulting data, project director Richard Vevers said.

When asked about the project costs, Catlin sustainability director John Carroll would only characterize it as "fairly substantial."

Bermuda-based Catlin also would get substantial benefit from the project, he said, noting the large numbers of global insurable assets that could be affected by climate change.

"Clearly as an insurance company, we're keen to help manage this risk because, you know, that's our business," Carroll said.

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