Richard Vevers worked as a London adman until a particularly bad meeting left him looking to make a change. Vevers moved to Sydney, put on some scuba gear, and became an underwater photographer. The degradation he saw beneath the waves convinced him that what Jacques Cousteau had famously dubbed the 'Silent World' needed a louder voice – or a better ad campaign.
"I worked with a lot of conservation organizations in this time, and I realized what was going on in the ocean, and that there was very little that was actually being done about it," says Vevers. "People simply weren't aware."
Being "out of sight and out of mind," the ocean faces a classic advertising challenge. Vevers's inner Draper kicked in and, in 2010, he and some old advertising chums established Underwater Earth, a not-for-profit organization that partnered with Google and U.K.-headquartered insurer Catlin to begin the Catlin Seaview Survey, a visual record designed for scientists and available on the street-view platform. The immersive images are stitched together from pictures taken on a spherical camera that Vevers designed.
"We've taken over 200,000 images over the last 12 months, which have become the most viewed images of all time underwater," Vevers says.
The newfangled camera is affixed like a globe to the front of a torpedo-shaped, propeller-driven "scooter." A waterproof tablet (and mouse) acts as the dashboard so the diver can see each camera's view and adjust settings accordingly. The tablet also makes it possible to share images on the spot: "I took a picture of a turtle as it was swimming past and posted it straight to the Internet while we were still underwater," Vevers says, figuring that must have been a first.
Old-school photographic methods allowed marine researchers to shoot maybe a few hundred meters of seabed in day, but Underwater Earth's camera can cover distances of up to six kilometers.
"We've probably seen more of the Great Barrier Reef than anybody in history," Vevers says. The Catlin Seaview Survey will be coming to other key regions to help create a visual baseline for monitoring changes over time – and now anyone can go on a virtual dive or upload undersea images to Google, giving further voice to the Silent World.