Friday, Oct 28, 2011
The 2011 National Park Service/National Geographic BioBlitz was held in Saguaro National Park on October 21st and 22nd. The event attracted about 5,500 people, including more than 2,000 school children, approximately 1,500 members of the public, and over 600 ambassador volunteers.
Two days of round-the-clock exploration and documentation provided a snapshot of the many plants and animals in the 91,445-acre park, which lies east and west of Tucson, Arizona.
The BioBlitz provided local scientists, students and citizens the opportunity to conduct a 24-hour inventory of the plants, insects, birds and other living things that inhabit the desert park. Together, they found at least 859 different species in 24 hours. Included in that total are more than 400 species, mostly invertebrate animals and non-vascular plants, previously unknown in the park and at least one species of bryophyte – at this point believed to be new to science. Over the next few months, organizers expect the number to increase significantly as state-of-the-art testing of the collected specimens continues.
The BioBlitz was part scientific endeavor, part festival and part outdoor classroom. Education activities included counting cacti, catching insects by day and night, spotting birds, exploring washes and using technology to better understand the diverse ecosystems of this unique park.
Renowned conservationist, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Wildlife Conservation Society scientist Dr. J. Michael Fay also conducted a seven-day Tucson Transect. Walking from the backcountry on the eastern edge of the Rincon Mountain District of the park, crossing the city of Tucson and continuing to the western edge of the Tucson Mountain District, he documented every living thing he encountered.
The Biodiversity Festival included a wide variety of music, Native American performances, dance troops, talks, nature walks, live animal demonstrations and other activities. The festival focused on biodiversity, while encouraging the public to do their part to protect the environment. Many visitors interacted with representatives of science, nature and environmental organizations at more than 45 booths around “base camp” at the Tucson Mountain District Red Hills Visitor Center. Thousands of adults and kids earned “degrees” from “Biodiversity University” by participating in educational programs throughout the festival.
An integrated art program at “base camp” included flags featuring local species, made by local artists in schools and recreation and senior centers. Festival participants were able to do art on site, and more than 100 poems and prose were written as part of a poetry inventory done with local scientists and writers. A poetry garden/walk displayed some of the submissions in their natural setting.
In addition to the two day event, the National Park Foundation also created an Electronic Field Trip (EFT), where more than 90,000 registered participants logged on from schools across the country to participate in two live broadcasts during the BioBlitz. Millions more were able to view the EFT on public television stations nationwide. The EFT is available for viewing anytime at www.electronicfieldtrip.org.
The BioBlitz was not just a one-day event for publicity's sake. It was more about incorporating these ideas into the community and the classroom and reinforcing the idea of citizen science. The hope is the event has motivated others to hold future BioBlitzes of their own by exploring their own backyards, taking inventory of the natural world around them and helping to raise awareness about biodiversity close to home.
The 2011 BioBlitz was the fifth of ten such events being held annually among ten of the National Park Service's 395 sites leading up to the NPS centennial in 2016. It was presented by the National Park Service and National Geographic Society in collaboration with the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the Friends of Saguaro National Park.
Announced at the 2011 Saguaro BioBlitz is the next park in line to host the 2012 National Park Service/National Geographic BioBlitz. Mark your calendars for late August 2012 and plan to travel to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado to participate in the sixth co-sponsored BioBlitz event.