Travel to the Galapagos, With Google Street View

Go for a "hike" and take a "swim" in some of the most precious ecosystems on Earth.
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In May, Google sent a team of trekkers to the Galapagos Islands to travel the terrain and dive in the seas, collecting images for its Street View tool.

Today, after a few months spent processing those images, Google has released the Street View sites, giving users everywhere the opportunity to explore these unique ecosystems remotely.

Here, for starters, is a scene of sea lions, captured off the north shore of Floreana Island.

As delightful as the resource is for everyone, Google emphasized to me that its documentation of the islands also has a scientific purpose. As I wrote in May:

The Galapagos Islands are famous as the site where Charles Darwin spent five weeks taking down careful notes that would later prove essential for formulating his ideas about how different species are related to one another, and what that implied for how they came to exist in the first place. Evidence for natural selection and evolution exists anywhere there is life, but the islands' extreme biodiversity, all within such a close area, provided a unique set of examples -- such as the celebrated finches, with their slight habitat-to-habitat variations -- for Darwin to work with.

But this remarkable ecosystem is not a strong one, threatened by invasive species, climate change, and development. By teaming up with the Charles Darwin Foundation, Google hoped to create a dataset that scientists could use in the years ahead as a baseline for monitoring the ecosystems' health, and then making policy recommendations for conservation and sustainable development. "Galapagos is probably the best preserved tropical archipelago in the world," Daniel Orellana of the Charles Darwin Foundation told me on the phone from the islands. "It's very important to have information to understand how the Galapagos ecosystem works in a world that is changing so fast."

On its site, Google shared a few highlights from the expedition, including this window into the crater of the Sierra Negra volcano:

The distinctive blue-footed boobies:

And, of course, the islands' famous tortoises, spotted in the wild on the southern shore of Isla Isabela:

Google explained the reasons for project and how it was done in a short video:

You can explore more of this remote place remotely, at the project's webpage, seeing for yourself these ecosystems that have played such an important role in our understanding of life around the world.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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