It’s no secret that the wild places of the world are in danger of becoming extinct. Whether it’s human development, climate change, pollution, a lack of funding, or all of the above, the wide open spaces that contain the last blips of biodiversity are under attack.
Just a few days ago we learned that the U.S. House of Representatives wants to instate a “No More National Parks” Policy, an attempt to forever “block presidents from using the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish new national monuments by putting caps on how many times it can be used, requiring congressional review of proposed monuments, and forcing local communities to engage in an ironic exercise of reviewing the environmental impacts of protecting lands for future generations,” reports Think Progress.
So you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that between our physical destruction of nature and lawmakers’ desire to prevent us from protecting it, the gorgeous wild places of the world might not be around for our great-grandkids to enjoy.
In an effort to increase access to the world’s most iconic wild places, and in some ways preserve them for future generations, Google has quietly deployed its Street View teams to remote spots around the globe. Thanks to this incredible 360-degree technology, it’s now possible to explore mountain peaks, the ocean floor (and many things in between) without leaving your couch. Here are a few:
5 Wild Places You Can Explore Without Leaving Your Couch
This critically endangered river spans over 1,450 miles, beginning in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and ending the Gulf of California in Mexico. To paddle down it, you have to get on a permit waiting list that is approximately a decade long. Or you could just fire up your laptop. Thanks to Google Street View and their partner, American Rivers, you can virtually float down the river from Lake Powell to Lake Mead and see the entire length of Grand Canyon National Park from the river. “Paddle” through 279 miles of cold water, or “hike” up one of 5 trails into the rich, red walls of the side canyons.
Polar bears are the canaries of the global warming coal mine. Nowhere is the impact of climate change on these creatures more evident than Churchill, Canada. In this town, polar bears have lived alongside the few humans who can stomach the Arctic for many years. These residents have seen first hand what warm temperatures and shrinking ices are doing to the bears. Using their 360-degree cameras, the Google Maps team “was able to capture once-in-a-lifetime images of male polar bears sparring and mother bears nursing their young; they were also able to capture important visual data that will one day show the changing climate of the Canadian tundra – something that is putting the polar bear population at risk,” reports Global News.
In late 2013, Google launched its latest Street View Trekker project with a collection of incredible maps of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. “Allowing users to become ‘Darwin for a Day,’ the 360-degree street view maps swim with marine life and hike over islands that Darwin likely encountered in his historic venture 178 years ago. Viewers can even help with ongoing conservation in the region by identifying the plants and animals on screen,” writes Charley Cameron for Inhabitat.
About a year ago, the Google Maps team completed the arduous task of cataloging the Seven Summits—the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. Their 360-degree camera captured every inch of some of the most famous mountains on Earth, including Aconcagua (South America), Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mount Elbrus (Europe) and Everest Base Camp (Asia). The panoramic results are truly breathtaking, and just might be the closest some of us ever come to these tall mountains.
In 2012, Google partnered with the Caitlin Seaview Survey to create underwater “Streetview” maps. The unprecedented series of scientific expeditions recorded and revealed the world’s oceans and reefs like never before. Using specially-designed 360-degree panoramic cameras, diving expeditions were deployed to record Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and other iconic ocean locations. Over 50,000 images were taken and then stitched together to create the continuous images we’ve come to know and love from Google Maps.
So, there’s no denying that being able to get up close and personal with these wild and remote places without moving a muscle is pretty cool. But is it actually good for us, or for the conservation efforts we claim to care about? Jonathan Thompson asks this question in an article about Google’s Colorado River journey for High Country News. Thompson ends the piece with this quote:
“The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated and anyone can transport himself anywhere, instantly,” wrote Ed Abbey in The Journey Home. “Big deal, Buckminster. To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me. That’s God’s job, not ours.”