All Eyes on the Earth!

Photo by Maverick Dal |

When I first learned of Google Earth several years ago, I was thrilled at the prospect of exploring remote locations and historic landmarks around the globe with a simple search and click of a mouse.  The widespread possibilities with this free software always amazed me, but I never fully recognized the potential of it all until recently. 

Google Earth has aided environmental research profoundly, and is considered by some to be the most valuable tool at our disposal when it comes to protecting our planet.

Google Earth, released in 2005, is increasingly used to raise awareness about prominent environmental issues, just by scanning satellite imagery of the Earth’s surface from our desktop.  The underlying concept that any one of us can do what we please with this advanced remote sensing technology is, in itself, quite a remarkable feat. 

Conservationists, ecologists as well as a number of other biologists and geographers have taken Google Earth’s capabilities to the extreme.

In October 2008, a group of scientists led by conservationist Julian Bayliss, succeeded in the discovery of several new butterfly, snake and bird species in jungle territory of Mozambique, after planning out their entire expedition via Google Earth! These Royal Botanical Gardens biologists began the expedition by merely stumbling upon the large area of unmapped woodland seen on Google Earth.

A perfectly-timed encounter of new fringing coral reefs off the coast of the Kimberley region of Western Australia in 2008 allowed reef specialist Chris Simpson to combat federal plans to initiate oil and gas development in the area.  This extensive formation of fringing coral along the Australian coast is comparable to only two other similar locations worldwide—clearly an ecosystem demanding our protection.

Even big-name organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) take advantage of Google Earth in some of their habitat conservation initiatives.  WWF produced a virtual tour of a forest in Sumatra, Indonesia in order to shed light on the endangerment of the Sumatran tiger, elephants, rhinos and orangutans as a result of destructive logging practices.  These logging projects are literally shedding more light on these critical species’ homes by demolishing them!  Satellite imagery is an effective way of displaying the fearful consequences of deforestation since aerial photographs show us the direct impacts on natural landscapes.

The non-profit organization ‘Save the Elephants’ has their own unique use for Google Earth, involving the mapping of endangered African elephant movements throughout their range.  This monitoring technique is combined with satellite tracking devices for the animals to avoid poaching and other harmful zones.

You may be surprised to learn how expansive the use of Google Earth is when it comes to protecting, monitoring and discovering plants and animals globally.  Check out more outreach programs like ‘EDGE’ (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered), the ‘Mount Paektu Biosphere Reserve,’ or ‘CONABIO’ (Mexico’s biodiversity commission) to see even more conservational efforts Google Earth is incorporated in!