University of West Florida students were among those leading teams of citizen scientists that surveyed plants and animals at the first Gulf Islands BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival.
While BioBlitz events have been held at parks in the National Park Service system for years, Saturday marked the first such festival at Gulf Islands National Seashore.
“BioBlitz is a real special opportunity,” said Dan Brown, superintendent at Gulf Islands National Seashore. “It’s an opportunity to go out and take a quick snapshot look in a single day of all of the different lifeforms – plant and animal – that live in this incredible habitat here.”
Teams of up to 20 people who registered for BioBlitz were led by science experts and explored the park, looking for species including reptiles, insects, birds of prey and seagrass.
Cody Nash, a UWF graduate student, led one of the groups that was trying to find eagles, red-shouldered hawks, ospreys and raptors.
“I worked with raptors for about six years,” Nash said. “I worked for a wildlife rehabilitator and my specialty was raptors.”
Each team also included “iNaturalists” whose job was to document each animal and plant found by taking a picture with their iPhone or iPad.
Stephen Buchanan, a UWF senior majoring in marine biology, had his microscope ready to identify some phytoplankton – microscopic plants – from some of the water samples taken Saturday.
“Phytoplankton are a key component to the ecosystem,” Buchanan said. “They are pretty much the base of the food chain.”
UWF also hosted a booth at the biodiversity festival. Additionally, there were about 10 other booths hosted by environmental stewardship organizations.
The BioBlitz event achieves two goals, said Susan Teel, chief of resource education at Gulf Islands National Seashore.
“First, is for the general public to learn more about science and biodiversity and to participate in it, and, through that, find out that science, plants and animals are cool and fun,” Teel said.
“And the second, is to gather information and data for the parks.”
Gulf Islands National Seashore also partnered with the Okaloosa S.C.I.E.N.C.E. Initiative, National Geographic, Encyclopedia of Life and Smithsonian eMammal, in addition to UWF, for this event.
This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.