Marine life gets Google Earth spotlight

Google Earth is gaining a new layer of complexity, in the form of detailed information about ocean conservation hotspots. The layer came about as part of Google Earth Outreach, a branch of Google Earth that helps non-profit organizations develop online maps using their data to benefit the level of detail of Google's land-based maps -- for one thing, the environmental and social causes. Though not at company isn't doing its own underwater mapping -- it does provide a way for ocean protection organizations and researchers to present their video streams, photos, and data to the public in geographic context.

The ocean-gazing feature gives users a closer look at protected underwater landscapes, with the intent of raising awareness of the fragility of ocean ecosystems. The ocean plug-in is currently only available for Windows, but you can try it out here. A wealth of information and imagery exists about the underwater realm that few people tap into, and that we even now have only scratched the surface of. Just this week, for example, scientists in Australia revealed that they had discovered almost 300 new species of marine life. These included types of coral, starfish, sponges, shrimps, and crabs, all found during two voyages through the waters south of Tasmania.

This quote from a government minister quoted by a National Geographic story on the new species discovery puts it succinctly: "We probably know more about the surface of the moon than we do about some of the vast reaches of our oceans."