A new way to Explore Galapagos

Posted by Graciela Monsalve on May 23, 2013

FCD's Daniel Orellana collecting images with "The Trekker" - Photo courtesy of GoogleFCD's Daniel Orellana collecting images with "The Trekker" - Photo courtesy of Google

A virtual experience opens new ways to explore the Galapagos Islands’ unique ecosystems

May 23th, 2013.
Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Galapagos National Park Directorate (GNPD) have partnered with Google Maps and the Catlin Seaview Survey to collect 360-degree imagery of the Galapagos Islands. The imagery will be available on Google Maps later this year via Google’s Street View feature. When the imagery is live, anyone can view it on Google Maps and use it for research, management, education and exploration without actually ever setting foot there.

This submerse virtual experience of the Galapagos will be possible thanks to a collection of panoramic images of the islands ecosystems recently captured through the Trekker Google Street View platform and the Catlin Seaview Survey SVII camera system.

Google Street View collects 360-degree images from around the planet, which are then published through the web as part of Google´s ongoing effort to create the most comprehensive, accurate and useful map of the world. These images allow Google Maps users to explore the expanse of the world from their smart phone or desktop computer that otherwise they might never have the opportunity to do.

This imagery is part of a pilot project that aims to explore the potential use of Street View images for the research and monitoring of Galapagos ecosystems. Traditionally, researchers visiting the islands have studied Galapagos habitats through field trips, which given the geographical and spatial configuration of the archipelago are extremely costly. The imagery of the islands on Google Maps will enable researchers to know the exact position of elements visible in it. This has the potential to open up a whole new range of research methodologies that do not always require the physical presence of the researcher in the field, and would complement field studies while saving significant amounts of time and money.

The aim of the CDF and GNPD is to explore the potential use of images to:

  • Visually document and monitor the landscapes and habitats of land and underwater ecosystems in various locations over time. 
  • Obtain "ground truth" data for scientific work; characterize vegetation and land cover; monitor species diversity and composition of the sea bed; detect and record changes in ecosystems over time; compare external (human or other) impacts in different habitats of the islands.
  • Establish a scientific protocol for ecosystem monitoring using these images, which can be shared across scientific communities.

According to Daniel Orellana, CDF’s head of Human Systems Research and project coordinator, “this is a unique opportunity to spearhead technology science for conservation and public awareness about the importance of Galapagos ecosystems in a changing world. The outcomes of the project will allow CDF and GNPD to count on valuable information for research and the continued conservation of the Galapagos Islands.”

Images were collected at several land sites chosen by the GNPD, such as Cartago Bay and the sulfur mines around Sierra Negra’s volcano on Isabela Island. Champion Island and Gordon Rocks were chosen among other underwater sites. The CDF and GNPD invited Google and the Catlin Seaview Survey to come to the islands and collect this imagery.

The equipment used to collect the land images is referred to as "The Trekker", a backpack with a 15-lens camera system on top, which simultaneously captures 360-degree multi-directional images. A “Trekker” modification developed by Google’s partner, The Catlin Seaview Survey, collected 360-degree images at underwater sites. Once processed, the images of Galapagos will be published online on Google Maps and made freely available.

Pelayo Salinas de León, CDF’s head of Fisheries and Sharks Research and coordinator of marine surveys stated: “The SVII camera system developed by Catlin Seaview Survey has enabled the CDF and GNPD to compile an amazing portfolio of 360 degrees images. This imagery will not only be of utmost importance for research and management but also an exceptional platform to raise environmental awareness about the importance of conserving this world heritage site while allowing the entire world to take ‘virtual dives’ in the Galapagos Marine Reserve’s unique ecosystems.”

Now that the imagery collection is completed, the next steps of the project involve exploring the actual potential use of the Google Street View imagery for monitoring and research. The CDF believes that beyond any particular interest, this project is an opportunity to be at the forefront of technology with potential to expand scientific research which in the end, will help to provide better support to the GNPD for the management and conservation of the Galapagos Islands.


The CDF is an international scientific nonprofit organization with over 50 years of experience working for the conservation of the Galapagos Islands. Its mission is to provide knowledge and assistance, through scientific research and complementary action, to ensure the conservation of the environment and biodiversity in Galapagos.

The GNPD is the institution responsible for the conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity of island ecosystems and marine protected areas in the archipelago, as well as the rational use of the goods and services they generate for the community.

More information about the Catlin Seaview Survey can be found here: