Over the past three decades, the world's reefs have lost around 40% of their coral – and saving these unique, fragile and incredibly valuable ecosystems is now a race against time. One major scientific initiative that's racing to do just that is the Catlin Seaview Survey, an ambitious expedition to create a high-res, 360-degree, panoramic record of these underwater wonders. The reasoning behind the project is that we need to get to know the reefs a lot better if we're to stand a chance of saving them. 

The first stage of the epic mapping mission, carried out back in 2012, saw cameras descend on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, before the Catlin team moved its research focus to the reefs of the Caribbean and Bermuda the following year.

And just recently, the spotlight finally fell on United States waters, with Catlin partnering up with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to record and reveal the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, home to the only living barrier reef in North America. The team was joined in the field by world-renowned marine conservationist and ex-NOAA chief scientist Sylvia Earle.

CBS News covered this first foray into US waters, and the video below includes a close-up look at the amazing camera equipment that allows the Catlin team to record reefs like never before. It's definitely worth a watch. (You can also feast your eyes on some of the Florida Keys panoramas here, here and here.)


Top header image: Phil's 1stPix, Flickr