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Explore Florida Keys From Your Own Home: Google Maps Underwater Kingdoms

Have you always wanted to visit an exotic location, learn to scuba dive and explore the treats the underwater worlds in locations such as Florida Keys, the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands have to offer?

Now, curious explorers can go underwater in these fascinating destinations for free, and from the comfort of their own home.

Scientists and researchers are developing a 'Google Street View' type programme to hold information and pictures of the world's coral reefs and other incredible underwater scenes, using special cameras which capture the 360-degree photos.

The captivating panorama shots that the divers have been taking have revealed things about underwater and marine life that people back at home, or those who have never had the chance to explore the reefs, might not be aware of.

Catlin Seaview Survey has taken around 400,000 photos so far since it's launch in 2012, using a huge basketball-shaped camera to capture the underwater kingdoms in all of their majestic glory before global warming and other environmental threats have a chance to destroy what so many people find so fascinating. The camera allows the team to map and record the reefs within certain protected areas, as well as document any changes to the vulnerable ecosystem and educate the public about their conservation efforts.

The team partnered with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries last week in order to map coral reefs in one of the highly-protected areas of Florida Keys in the United States - popular underwater sights which haven't been seen by the majority of people outside of the US.

One of the best images the crew's incredible camera has managed to capture shows the 'Christ of the Abyss', a bronze sculpture of Jesus Christ with his arms raised towards the ocean's surface. The sculpture was deliberately dropped into the ocean at that specific point in 1965, and is now covered almost entirely in corals, creating a slightly eerily sight to behold.

The sanctuary which surrounds the reef at the southern tip of Florida offers world-class diving, swimming, snorkelling and fishing facilities for tourists and visitors but not everyone can afford to travel to America just to visit, so the online 'map' will give people a home a mere glimpse of what they are missing - especially as a lot of the reef is now protected by special preservation areas.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is the world's third largest barrier reef, and is home to over 6,000 species of marine life and various shipwrecks.

Mitchell Tartt is the chief of the conservation science division with NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. He said, "œThis allows people who can't get underwater to understand what we mean by putting up a special preservation area around this particular spot.

The world's reefs are in a dramatic state of decline as environmental factors such as pollution, destructive fishing and climate change all effect the coral reefs and their resident marine life. If the decline continues and the reefs eventually become destroyed, there will be a major threat to more than 500 million people who rely on the coral reefs for food, tourism income and coastal protection - not to mention their beauty will rarely be found again in the large quantities that it is available in today. Alpha Travel Insurance support anyone who decides to preserve natural beauties such as this, we think the underwater mapping idea is a great way of not just cataloguing what's under our waves, but also to give those who can't get underwater, the opportunity to experience the sights anyway.

If all this talk about diving has got you inspired to go on holiday and scuba-dive, make sure you are covered with your Alpha Travel Insurance policy. Diving down to certain depths is covered as standard, but double check that you won't need to buy an optional extension pack for your scuba-diving on our Activity Packs page. For a small premium, we can cover you for injury or equipment damage ensuring that you have peace of mind whilst underwater.

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