An Underwater Snapshot: The Reality Behind Virtual Reality

Hannah Brady, Wimberley, TX, United States
Virtual reality is a fast-growing aspect of today’s technology, providing a new viewpoint that captures the attention of the public. The National Marine Sanctuaries are beginning to capitalize on this interest with a project using underwater photography to share a world most of the public never sees. 360° underwater images are taken by a scuba diver using a fisheye camera, which are then stitched together using computer software to form a panoramic view. On the NOAA marine sanctuary website, the panorama becomes a virtual reality image that can be viewed by the public. At the present time, Monterey Bay is the only sanctuary without these virtual reality images. This project changes that fact by utilizing a large photo library to stitch together images from various sites around Monterey Bay. These virtual maps are beneficial for educational purposes for scuba divers and the general public, offering a realistic view of the marine habitat. The images are also a useful scientific tool that can capture a snapshot of the environment surrounding a study site. In summer 2019, images were taken along the Monterey Bay Aquarium intake pipe prior to construction work occurring in near future. These images will be used for comparative purposes to demonstrate the effect of the intake pipe restoration on the national marine sanctuary. The process of forming the virtual reality images is time consuming but yields a product with many potential applications.