Google today announced the launch of Ocean in Google Earth, a new feature that lets people dive beneath the water surface, explore 3D underwater terrain, and browse ocean-related content contributed by leaders in ocean science and advocacy. The new ‘Explore the Ocean’ layer highlights the Great Barrier Reef, while also featuring marine protected areas like Point Hicks Marine National Park in Victoria, dive and surf sites all around Australia, and video footage including Jacques Cousteau diving expeditions off Western Australia.

Content for the ‘Explore the Ocean’ layer was developed with the help of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS). Professor David Bellwood of CoECRS and James Cook University describes the coverage of the Great Barrier Reef in Google Earth as “superb promotion for our greatest natural wonder.”

“The oceans are out of sight, and out of mind. Only fishermen, scientists, tourism operators and the like really see what is happening, day to day. Our hope is that, through the medium of the internet, millions of people – young people especially – will now be able to develop a better feel for what is happening to our oceans, and might be inspired to visit them and see for themselves.

The Ocean feature is on by default in the newest version of Google Earth. As you zoom in on the ocean you’ll see a dynamic water surface, and once you dive beneath the surface you can navigate 3D sea floor terrain. The feature includes 20 content layers, containing information contributed by the world’s leading scientists and ocean explorers. It provides an opportunity to explore some of the most difficult-to-reach parts of the world, allowing you to examine underwater volcanoes, watch videos about the exotic marine life of a region, read about nearby shipwrecks, and contribute photos and videos of favourite surf spots.

“In discussions about climate change, the world’s oceans are often overlooked despite being an integral part of the issue,” says Google CEO Eric Schmidt. “About one-third of the carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere ends up in the oceans. Furthermore, biodiversity loss in our oceans in the next 20-30 years will be roughly equivalent to losing an entire Amazon rainforest, but this goes unnoticed because we can’t see it. This is why today’s launch of Google Earth 5.0 is so important – it gives us an opportunity to change everyone’s perspective.”

Also in Google Earth 5.0 – Mars

The new version of Google Earth also introduces Mars 3D, which features hi-res imagery and terrain of the red planet; Historical Imagery, letting people virtually travel back in time through archival satellite and aerial imagery; and Touring, which makes it simple to create a narrated tour in Google Earth and share it with the world.