The remote volcanic islands of the Galapagos archipelago are famed for their vast number of endemic species and the studies by Charles Darwin that led to his theory of evolution by natural selection.
The Ecuadorean Government, local conservation groups and scientists are working to protect the Galapagos from threats posed by invasive species, climate change and other human impacts.
For billions of years, nature has flourished here relatively undisturbed. Volcanic activity that formed the first Galapagos Islands continues to shape the landscape today, providing habitat for unusual fauna and flora found nowhere else on earth.
Blue-footed boobies, Galapagos tortoises, marine iguanas and fur seals are just a few of the many Galapagos inhabitants here.
Few have explored the beauty of the islands because they are closed to tourists.
However now this unique in nature and atmosphere land will become available on Google Maps later in 2013 so people around the world can experience this remote archipelago, says Google in a blog post.
Google, in partnership with Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Parks Directorate (GNPD), sent hikers to the Galapagos Islands with Street View Trekker equipment to take panoramic images of its wildlife.
“We captured imagery from 10 locations that were hand-selected by CDF and GNPD. We walked past giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies, navigated through steep trails and lava fields, and picked our way down the crater of an active volcano called Sierra Negra,” Raleigh Seamster, the project’s leader for Google Maps said.
Thousands of pictures were made by the football-like cameras mounted on a tower on top of hikersâ€™ 42lb (19kg) computer backpacks.
Each orb has 15 cameras inside it that have captured panoramic views of some of the most inaccessible places on the Galapagos.
Life underwater in the Galapagos is just as diverse as life on land.
So the Catlin Seaview Survey team, which is also partnering with Google Ocean on a years-long project to photograph endangered coral reefs, used the three SVII cameras on its diver-operated, motorized underwater scooter to take panoramic photographs of the coastal shelf.
“We spent 10 days there hiking over trails â€¦ and even down the crater of an active volcano,” Raleigh Seamster said.
“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.”
Google underlines that the images represent an important visual record that the CDF and GNPD will use to study and protect the islands by showing the world how these delicate environments have changed over time.
â€śItâ€™s critical that we share images with the world of this place in order to continue to study and preserve the islandsâ€™ unique biodiversity,â€ť Seamster wrote in the post.
Scientists working with Google are exploring the footage for other species and hope to update the pictures regularly throughout the years as they study the effects of invasive species, tourism and climate change on the island’s ecosystems, reports CBCNews.
“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,” said Daniel Orellana, a scientist with the Charles Darwin Foundation.
“We can use this as an education experience for children, and there is a huge opportunity for rare discoveries.”
Since launching Street View in 2007, Google has expanded from urban neighborhoods accessed easily by its mapping cars to more hard-to-access sites like the ocean floor, the Amazon rain forest and the Arctic.
The Trekker is used for locations its camera-laden cars, trikes, trolleys and snowmobiles are unable to access â€“ such as the Grand Canyon, where the Trekker was first put through its paces.
This body-based camera is operated by an Android device and comprises 15 lenses positioned at various angles, allowing for the images to be stitched together to create the familiar 360-degree panoramic views we see on Street View. The Trekker snaps photos once every every 2.5 seconds, writes Digital Trends.