The Washington Post

Google maps remote Galapagos islands

Daniel Orellana of the Charles Darwin Foundation crosses a rocky lava field to reach a land iguana restoration area in Bahia Cartago, Isabela Island in the Galapagos with his backpack-mounted camera. (Associated Press)

Few have explored the remote volcanic islands of the Galapagos archipelago, an otherworldly landscape inhabited by the world’s largest tortoises and other fantastic creatures.

Soon it will take only the click of a mouse or finger swipe on a tablet to check out some of the Galapagos Islands’ most remote areas, surrounding waters and unique creatures.

California-based Google sent hikers to the Galapagos with Street View gear called “trekkers,” 42-pound computer backpacks with large cameras that look like soccer balls mounted on a tower.

Each orb has 15 cameras inside it that have captured panoramic views of some of the most inaccessible places on the Galapagos, which are more than 500 miles off the Pacific coast of South America.

Crews from the Catlin Seaview Survey worked with Google to capture 360-degree views of selected underwater areas, too.

Christophe Bailhache shoots an underwater scene for Google with a spotted eagle ray during a survey dive in the Galapagos Islands. (Associated Press)

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

Google is processing the video and is trying to stitch it together. It hopes to post it to Street View later this year.

The cameras captured the nesting sites of blue-footed boobies (those are birds with big blue feet), the red-throated magnificent frigatebirds, swimming hammerhead sharks and, of course, the island’s giant tortoises.

Scientists working with Google are exploring the video for other species and hope to update the pictures regularly as they study the effects of invasive species, tourism and climate change on the islands’ ecosystems.

“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,” Orellana added.

Orellana and others supervised the Google trekkers and helped guide them to remote areas that are either off-limits to tourists or rarely visited because they are hard to reach.

They also captured images of the areas frequented by tourists so they can keep track of how this access is affecting the environment.

Since launching Street View in 2007, Google has expanded from city neighborhoods accessed easily by its mapping cars to more hard-to-access sites such as the ocean floor, the Amazon rain forest and 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.

— Associated Press

Show Comments

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.