NOAA just made it a lot easier to explore their national marine sanctuaries without obtaining a scuba license. This month, the administration unveiled a virtual dives gallery that allows anyone with a web connection to tour some of the most impressive underwater sites in U.S. jurisdiction.
The online tool showcases the waters of five locations. Users can examine sights that include Tafeu Cove off America Samoa, the barrel sponges of Flower Garden Banks, the coral colonies of Gray’s Reef, the Christ of the Abyss statue off the Florida Keys, and the shipwrecks at the bed of Thunder Bay in Lake Huron.
The 360-degree scenes were stitched together from photos captured by professional divers, and can be viewed with or without VR headsets. "Shooting these images is all about balance," Phil Hartmeyer, a maritime archaeologist at Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, said in a statement. "Each virtual dive you see is the result of the camera's settings, diver positioning, and subject framing all being in perfect equilibrium."
NOAA plans to continue building the dives gallery, eventually adding photography from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale, Monterey Bay, Stellwagen Bank, Channel Islands, and Olympic Coast marine sanctuaries, as well as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National, to the collection.