Google Maps Galapagos Islands Above And Below The Water

Google users will soon be getting a free trip to Ecuador’s remote and famed Galapagos Islands, home to world’s largest tortoise and the location that inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

No, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company is not chalking up the bill for airfare to the islands. But later this year, users of the web giant’s Google Street View program will be able to take a panoramic tour of the island – both above and below the waterline.

Working in partnership with Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Parks Directorate (GNPD), hikers hired by Google trekked across the islands carrying 42-pound Street View Trekker equipment mounted on backpacks. Google also used an underwater version of the camera to capture the diverse sea life around the islands as part of the Catlin Seaview Survey.

“We spent 10 days there hiking over trails and even down the crater of an active volcano,” said Raleigh Seamster, the project's leader for Google Maps. "And these are islands, so half of the life there is under the water surface. So (we brought) Street View underwater to swim with sea lions, sharks and other marine animals."

The Google images are a chance for the world to see one of the most biodiverse places on the globe and one that few people have seen as many sections of the islands are hard to reach or closed to tourists. The tech company is now stitching the photos together with the hope that users will be able to see the remote archipelago sometime later this year.

Among the wildlife captured on screen by Google are sea lions, the nesting sites of blue-footed boobies, red-throated frigatebirds, swimming hammerhead sharks and the famed giant tortoises. Scientists working with the company will monitor the images periodically to find other species and update the photos as they study climate change and other outside effects to the ecosystem of the islands.

“We hope that children in classrooms around the world will be trying to discover what they can see in the images, even tiny creatures like insects,” Daniel Orellana, a scientist with the Charles Darwin Foundation.

In 2007, Google launched street view in a number of cities but has since expanded from urban areas to more remote regions of the world – such as the ocean floor, the Amazon jungle and regions of the arctic.

“This whole project was part of Google's ongoing effort to build the most comprehensive and accurate map of the world,” Seamster said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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