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ReefQuest Virtual Reefs

Welcome to the ReefQuest Virtual Reefs


Access our virtual reefs by following the timeline below. Follow a reef over time. Read on if you have not previously accessed the virtual reef and need to learn more about it.

The Virtual Reef is the world's first attempt to capture in high resolution underwater panoramic sections of actual coral reefs. We use a technique called Photosynth to turn mosaics of high resolution underwater photographs into a navigable panoramic view of the coral reef.

There are multiple purposes of the virtual reef:

  • It allows an unprecedented way to document the conditions of large sections of actual reefs, in great detail and at high resolution. Over time the same virtual reefs can be visited to document changes.
  • It allows anyone without access to actual coral reefs to conduct various virtual dives and engage in activities and scientific data collection for educational purposes, in connection with our @School curriculum.
  • It can be used by volunteers and reef managers to plan various types of scientific surveys as well as train volunteers for actual in-the-water surveys. Some virtual surveys can even collect new scientific data off the virtual reef and provide an opportunity for citizen scientist to contribute to scientific knowledge directly from the Virtual Reef.


The Virtual Reef is the invention of ReefQuest founder Dylan Vecchione. The initial virtual reef was created from thousands of underwater pictures taken by Dylan from 2007 to 2015. The project is on-going and 2016 and 2017 Virtual Reefs are being developed and added to the ReefQuest web site. One of the key promises of our virtual reef is to return to the same reefs year after year to document the changes that might be occurring.  Some of our virtual surveys involve multi-year trends, which we will support with the virtual reef as it expands.


While creating the original Virtual Reef at the Kahekili, Maui site,  ReefQuest developed a protocol to help anyone else interested in adding to the virtual reef do so.

Today we are supporting schools and volunteers around the world as they create new virtual reefs. We will be publishing those as they become available in a constantly expanding project. If you are interested in leading the effort to build your own virtual reefs, please contact us

The technology for creating panoramic composites was developed at Microsoft Laboratories and is called Photosynth. Creating each virtual transect involves use of a supercomputer that stitches individual pictures into an integrated panorama. Access to this supercomputer, called Seadragon is provided by Microsoft.


What is a virtual reef transect? 

Each virtual reef is divided into transects, sections approximately 10 m long (approx. 30 ft). You can select different transects using the maps provided for each virtual reef under the "Virtual Reef" menu tab. You can also select a transect by name or location. Once you select a virtual reef transect, it will present you with a window, similar to the demo transect above. Once your virtual transect opens, you will see a navigation tool bar at the bottom of the picture window. 


What can I do with it? 

  • Conduct virtual surveys using the activities in the @School curriculum
  • Explore sections of real reefs around the world and look for changes over time
  • Document a reef by adding to the virtual reef
  • Learn and engage in real scientific surveys and practice for actual in-the-water survey work, before getting in the water


How do I use the virtual reef

Click here for a brief tutorial on how to use the virtual reef. Please note that you will need to be a member of ReefQuest and login. It takes a few seconds and you can even join with your Facebook, Google, Yahoo or Twitter user names!


Our Virtual Reefs!


2011 Virtual Reefs

Kahekili, Maui, Hawaii (Summer)

Mokuleia Bay, Maui, Hawaii (under development)


2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Virtual Reefs (Coming Soon)- Always expanding the database

Kahekili, Maui, Hawaii (Spring)

Kahekili, Maui, Hawaii (Summer)

Mokuleia Bay, Maui, Hawaii

Hulopoe Bay, Lanai, Hawaii

Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii (Produced by the Academy of the Pacific, Honolulu)

Molokini Crater, Maui, Hawaii (Under Development)

Red Hill, Hawaii, Hawaii (Under Development)

Honaunau Bay (Two Step), Hawaii, Hawaii (Under Development)



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