Divers in Cyprus are currently mapping the island’s underwater sites, with the aim of creating immersive digital tours that promote tourism and raise awareness about biodiversity.
Among the five sites being captured are the Lef 1 shipwreck, a 16-metre vessel that sits 10 metres below the surface off the southern coast of the island. The project aims to build digital 3D models of the sites using photos and videos.
The tours will be available on an online platform by the end of the year, as part of a project called Larnaca Virtual Underwater Routes, a joint venture between the Cyprus Maritime and Marine Institution and the Larnaca Tourism Board.
"We're taking quite a lot of info through photography of the seabed and then we're stitching it together through programming on the computer to create a video that gives you a 360º tour," says visual designer Marios Constantinides.
He says the tours and mapping of dive routes will allow divers "to understand the potential dangers or points of reference”.
The project will cover two natural reefs and three wrecks, including Cyprus’s best-known dive site, the MS Zenobia, a Swedish-built ferry that capsized and sank off the coast of the Cypriot port city of Larnaca in 1979. The iron-and-steel ship's final resting place is 40 metres beneath the surface, a 10-minute boat ride from Larnaca.
While authorities are hoping the mapping project will stimulate tourism, it also aims to promote environmental awareness. Artificial reefs, such as the sunken boats, can boost the biodiversity of nearby natural reefs by creating new havens for marine life.
"With new media and new technologies, recording these dive sites and being able to project (them) to the rest of the world, hopefully more and more sites will be discovered and more and more people will be interested,” Constantinides says.