We're thrilled to know that hundreds of millions of people use Google Earth to discover, explore, and learn more about the world around them. However, we're especially proud of the fact that Google Earth has been used as a tool to help people change the world. Today, to celebrate the individuals and organizations that have used Google Earth in their efforts to effect change, we're launching the Google Earth heroes project. We're highlighting the work of five organizations with this launch, with several other profiles soon to follow.

Project Kaisei
Right now, in the North Pacific Gyre, an 'island' of garbage twice the size of the state of Texas is floating across the surface of the ocean. This area was recently visited by the members of Project Kaisei who tracked their voyage using Google Earth and Maps. Project Kaisei researchers have experimented with converting plastic particles from the "Plastic Vortex" into diesel, and hope to eventually power their vessels with this fuel, creating fully sustainable expeditions. Video

Save the Elephants

For over 20 years, Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, has worked to protect elephants in Mali from poachers using geofences and satellite collars, among other technologies. With Google Earth, Dr. Douglas-Hamilton can track these elephants on a map and has been able to save many animals' lives, rescuing trapped elephants and helping animals suffering from the effects of local drought and climate change. Video

Borneo Orangutan Survival
The number of Orangutans in the wild today is decreasing at a staggering pace largely because of the destruction of their rainforest habitats. In Sumatra, recent calculations show that the total Orangutan population has fallen from 12,000 in 1993 to approximately 6,500 today. Willie Smits and the Borneo Orangutan Survival Organization have used Google Earth as a platform to enable everyone to participate in their reforestation project by viewing and adopting forest acreage in the Samboja Lestari region. Video

Chief Almir and the Surui
Since he first observed the illegal logging of his tribe's territory with Google Earth in an internet cafe several years ago, Chief Almir Surui, along with Google Earth Outreach, have worked together to raise awareness about this issue, and Surui culture as a whole. Most recently, in addition to the launch of the “Trading Bows and Arrows for Laptops” Google Earth tour, members of the Google Earth Outreach team traveled to the Amazon to teach the Surui how mobile devices can be used to capture photos of illegal logging activity and uploaded to Google Earth. Video

Appalachian Voices

Mountaintop removal coal mining refers to a process of detonating explosives in order to mine coal seams that would otherwise be difficult to access. The practice is hugely detrimental to the surrounding environment, pollutes nearby drinking-water sources, permanently destroys the mountains themselves, and often causes cancer and other diseases. Appalachian Voices, a grassroots environmental group in North Carolina, has educated millions of people, including policy-makers and legislators, about this destructive mining process by flying users over the 470 mine sites in the Appalachian mountains with Google Earth. The organization also has a layer in Google Earth dedicated to these efforts. Video

We salute these individuals and groups, and share their wonderful stories with the hope that they will inspire more people to use Google Earth to make the world a better place. If you are using Google Earth to change your world, be it in small ways or large, and would like to share your story, we want to hear from you! Please submit your story here and you could be selected as the next Google Earth Hero.

For more information about these Heroes of Google Earth, visit http://earth.google.com/changetheworld

Krating Poonpol, Product Marketing Manager, Google Earth
Tanya Keen, Program Manager, Google Earth Outreach