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BioBlitz at Biscayne National Park was a Big Success

Student diver in Biscayne Bay.

National Geographic Photo Camp student Andrea Santamaria from South Dade Senior High School dives down to a reef in Biscayne Bay. Photograph by Raul Touzon, National Geographic Photo Camp/BioBlitz 2010. (Bottom photo: A student holds a sea star discovered during the marine invertebrates walk. National Geographic photo by Thomas M. Strom.)

A 24-hour BioBlitz was completed on May 1 at Biscayne National Park, and by all measures, the event was a big success. Led by more than 200 scientists from around the country, thousands of amateur explorers, families, and schoolchildren from south Florida conducted an inventory of the plants, insects, fish and other creatures that inhabit one of the nation’s largest marine national parks.

The purpose of the event was to provide a snapshot of the many species that call Biscayne National Park home, both on land and in the water, and that included everything from microscopic bacteria to sea turtles weighing hundreds of pounds. It was hoped that the effort would not only add to the park's official species list, but would also foster greater public interest in the importance of protecting the biodiversity of this extraordinary place.

So, how did the outcome compare with expectations?

The official event ran from noon on Friday, April 30, until noon the following day, and preliminary results announced at 3:30 p.m. Saturday were exciting. The initial species count topped 800, and that number is expected to grow. Final results won't be known for several months, after additional state-of-the-art testing of the collected samples is conducted.

A number of species rare to the park were observed on land, including the Silver Hairstreak Butterfly, Mangrove Cuckoo, Bay-Breasted Warbler, and nesting Roseate Spoonbills; divers were excited to observe black, red, and gag groupers on a night dive on the park’s reefs.

Key finds ranged in size from mighty to minute. Seven candidate champion trees that survived hurricane Andrew were seen at the end of Totten Key—Paradise Tree, Bahama Strong Bark, Bllolly, Milk Bark, Joe Wood, Ink Wood, and Pigeon Plum, and participants also identified 11 species of lichen and 22 species of ants that had not previously been documented in the park.

Internationally known scientist William (Randy) Miller identified a new Phylum of Tardigrades—commonly known as water bears—during the inventory, and some of the best news was what the project did not find. Park scientists were thrilled to not have seen any invasive exotic lionfish during the BioBlitz inventory.

If you're interested in more details about the species found during the BioBlitz, the park has posted preliminary lists for both plants and animals.

More than 2,500 people of all ages participated in the program during the 24 hour blitz, including more than 1,300 registered school children from Miami-Dade County and more than 200 scientists.

Once the field work was completed on Saturday, participants were invited to enjoy the Celebrate Biodiversity Festival, which included several bands, talks, nature walks, live animal demonstrations and other activities. The festival focused on sustainability and encouraging the public to do their part to protect the environment, and many visitors graduated from “Biodiversity University” by participating in an education program throughout the festival.

The event at Biscayne was only one in an on-going series of similar efforts supported by National Geographic; that organization is sponsoring a similar BioBlitz in a different national park every year leading up to the NPS Centennial in 2016. The site of next year's event was announced as the activities wrapped up last Saturday in south Florida, and the host for the 2011 BioBlitz sponsored by National Geographic will be quite different from the coastal waters of Biscayne National Park.

The winner in the friendly competition for next year's event: Saquaro National Park in the Arizona desert.

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