For 24 hours starting at 4:00 pm June 9, 2017, Pender Island on the west coast of British Columbia was abuzz with hundreds of people, including 25 Parks Canada interpreters and more than 40 scientists. They were “blitzing” the forests and shores to find as many members of the animal kingdom as possible. People scooped in the lake with nets finding whirligig spiders, water scorpions and even leeches. SCUBA divers roamed underwater bringing back sea stars, sculpins, gunnels, sea cucumbers and other creatures that were placed in tanks for people to inspect. Slug traps were set up in the forest. In night expeditions, observers found bats and were dazzled by brilliant bioluminescence in the sea. Once recorded, specimens were returned to their habitat. Numerous information stations with displays and microscopes explained the fine details of nature.
A BioBlitz is defined as a period (usually 24 hours) of intense biological surveying by scientists, naturalists and volunteers in an attempt to record all living species within a designated area. A vital part of the exercise is that attendees enter their observations into a database using an app on their smartphones. In this way a baseline of biota is developed for the area. During the Pender Island Blitz, 790 observations were recorded, with 282 species.
The Beaty Museum of Biodiversity in Vancouver sent a team of scientists to augment its collections. Dr. Joel Gibson, Curator of Entomology at the Royal BC Museum, was there to study land insects. Not only did the BioBlitz expand scientific knowledge, but it also taught attendees about nature and biodiversity, while showcasing the magnificent landscape, seascape and biological world of the Gulf Islands.
The first BioBlitz was held in 1996 in Washington, D.C., and since then they have fast gained popularity, and are now held around the world.
By using citizen science, BioBlitzes have become a powerful research tool, and at the same they demystify the science of biology. They are a great way to get outdoors and immerse yourself in, and learn about, nature. BioBlitzes are fun―and free. At the PenderIsland BioBlitz, a ten-year-old girl gushed, “I saw a giant water beetle. This has been the best part of summer!” What better way for young people to learn about the immensity of nature and importance of conservation.
To participate in a BioBlitz near you or even organize your own BioBlitz, check out the calendar and guidelines at inaturalist.org.