ESQUIMALT, B.C. - Life beneath the sea is about to go live on the Internet, with the launch of the world's largest and most advanced underwater observatory off the coast of British Columbia.

The $100-million Neptune Canada project will give the world an unprecedented look at life beneath the ocean's surface.

Led by the University of Victoria, the project launched Friday in a ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, near Victoria, will provide 25 years of long-term monitoring of ocean events as they occur.

Three ships and at least one underwater robot-operated vehicle will be used to lower five 13-tonne module-like structures down to the sea floor off the west coast of Vancouver Island, near Port Alberni, where they'll be connected to 800 kilometres of fibre-optic cable winding its way over the sea floor.

Inside the modules are hundreds of observation instruments that will allow researchers around the world to use the ocean observatory to conduct deep-sea experiments and receive real-time data without leaving their laboratories and offices.

"At a time when our understanding of the oceans is clearly becoming more essential than ever, Neptune Canada will play a leadership role in advancing our knowledge of the oceans in ways not previously possible," Dr. David Turpin, UVic president, said in a statement.

At depths of up to 2.6 kilometres, the module-like nodes will supply power and two-way communications.

The Neptune Canada components and instruments are designed to withstand intense pressure and the cold and corrosive waters of the north Pacific.

Canadian company Alcatel-Lucent, a global transmission provider known for developing submarine cable networks, developed much of the infrastructure for Neptune Canada, including the nodes.

"The technology in those nodes has not been developed before," said Chris Barnes, Neptune Canada project director. "From those nodes will extend a whole series of extension cables which connect then as an array of scientific instruments."

The installation of the undersea nodes, which are housed in a casing designed to withstand the huge fish trawling vessels that drag their nets through the water scooping up fish, is expected to be complete by late September.

Neptune Canada data is expected to start flowing in late 2009.

Peter Phibbs, a Neptune Canada engineering spokesman and UVic professor, said what fascinates him most about the project is that it will provide constant information about life under the sea.

"It's exciting that we'll be down there all the time," he said.

The project has put Canada to among the world leaders when it comes to undersea research, he said.

"It's made people think of Canada in the area in which we work as far more adventurous and far more technologically adept than I think people have thought of us before," he said.

The cutting-edge of ocean exploration is not a place Canada has held in the past.

But over the years, it has become accepted that "Canada's doing a way out there leading edge project here that no one's done before," Phibbs said.