Google’s cameras have been through big cities and small towns, building a web of maps for its Street View service. Now, the Internet giant is moving underwater to map the great monuments of the sea.

As part of a quest to provide a fish-eye’s view of the ocean, Google has teamed up with the Catlin Seaview Survey to study the nooks and crannies of the world’s most beautiful oceans.

More than 50,000 high-resolution, 360-degree panoramic images have already been taken of three islands on the Great Barrier Reef. The images became available to the public on Wednesday through the Catlin Seaview Survey website, a dedicated YouTube channel, Google+, and Panoramio, a geolocation photo-sharing website.

When the images are stitched together, users can choose a location along the Great Barrier Reef, “dip underwater” virtually to a depth of 100m and go for a viewer-controlled dive using the street view feature of Google Maps.

The team plans to document 20 locations along the 2,300-km long Barrier Reef system over the next few months, before moving on to other sites in Bermuda, Hawaii and the Philippines.

The stunning images are grabbed using a specially-designed, tablet-operated underwater camera. Like the Google Street View cameras mounted on cars to map roads above ground, the underwater cameras are giant spheres that allow images to be grabbed from all sides. The camera spheres contain their own propulsion systems and are guided through the waters by scuba divers.

There are also plans for a deep reef survey to explore deep-water reef systems rarely visited by humans, using a combination of HD cameras, deep-diving robots and survey equipment. The deep-water component aims to provide a comprehensive study of the health composition and biodiversity of the deep-water reefs on the Great Barrier Reef.

Jenifer Austin Foulkes, the manager of Google’s Oceans program, said Wednesday the imagery is being made available to more than one billion monthly users of Google Maps around the world.

“Together we want to make these special underwater locations as accessible to people as the roads and landmarks they explore in Google Maps each day,” she said in a news release.

Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the Survey’s chief scientist and the director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland says the expedition will lead to a greater understanding of how the Great Barrier Reef is changing.

““The possibilities of what we will discover about coral reefs are almost endless,” he said in a news release.

“And right now, information on how these endangered ecosystems are responding to climate change is incredibly important, given that almost 25 per cent of marine species live in and around coral reefs.”

The Catlin Sea Survey is sponsored by the Catlin Group, a Bermuda-based specialty property insurer. CEO Stephen Catlin says his company is sponsoring the survey to better understand the changes to our planet.

“We believe that the more we understand about what is happening to the world in which we live, the better we can decide how to insure the risks we will face in the future,” he explained.