This year’s National Geographic/National Park Service bioblitz takes place Friday, April 30-May 1. Hundreds of scientists and many more volunteers will fan across Biscayne National Park, creating an inventory of every living species over 24 hours from midday to midday.
Biscayne is an unusual national park in that most of its 172,000 acres is covered by water. (See map below.)
Within sight of downtown Miami, the park consists of four primary ecosystems:
- a narrow fringe of mangrove forest along the mainland shoreline;
- the southern expanse of Biscayne Bay;
- the northernmost islands of the Florida Keys; and
- The beginning of the third-largest coral reef in the world.
“Each of these ecosystems is comprised of a variety of smaller communities like seagrass meadows, hardbottom areas and hardwood hammocks,” says the Biscayne National Park website.
Map courtesy of National Park Service
“The geology of the area has been influenced by changing sea levels, currents, hurricanes, and reef-building organisms like corals. South Florida’s subtropical climate produces forest types that are more typical of the Caribbean than of mainland North America.” the Park Service adds.
Biscayne National Park’s four ecosystems melt into one another creating rich edge communities, or “ecotones.” These edges support an incredible array of wildlife, including hundreds of species of colorful fish, plants found nowhere else in the United States, and visitor favorites like pelicans, manatees and turtles. Winds, currents, storms and the park’s close proximity to one of the nation’s largest urban areas means that the entire park is in a constant state of flux–ever-changing in the face of new challenges posed by the constant cycle of building and destruction.
Photos and caption courtesy of National Park Service
Renowned coral reef biologist Nancy Knowlton is a member of the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. She is the Sant Chair of Marine Science at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and also an adjunct professor of marine biology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she founded the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.
Knowlton will be taking part in this year’s bioblitz and will make one of the opening speeches on Friday. I asked her for some insights ahead of the event.
Photo of Nancy Knowlton by Christian Ziegler
“Most people are not familiar with many of the marine animals that can be found in this national park,” she told me. “That’s because many people don’t go under the water, and even if they do, some of the smaller animals are hard to spot.
“This year’s bioblitz will give everyone a chance to see the amazing variety of species that live in the marine part of Biscayne.”
“This year’s bioblitz will give everyone a chance to see the amazing variety of species that live in the marine part of Biscayne–either when they put on a mask and look at the coral or when researchers bring species back to base camp to study them under a magnifying glass.”
It’s appropriate that the 2010 bioblitz takes place in a marine park because the ocean is currently in dire straits, Knowlton added.
“There are a lot of things happening to the ocean locally, such as deteriorating water quality and overfishing. And there are also global threats, such as rising levels of carbon dioxide that are causing warming and increasing acidity. This bioblitz allows us to take stock of what’s in the sea and to address some of these issues at the same time.”
Concern about Florida reefs
Florida and Hawaii are the only two U.S. states that contain easily reached coral reefs, Knowlton pointed out. “Like most of the Caribbean, Florida’s corals have been suffering. The fish populations have fared much better than the corals, especially in the marine protected areas where the large fish are allowed to grow and prosper and make babies. But the water quality is not as it should be and the changing climate is also having an impact. I am concerned about the reefs.”
What’s Knowlton’s advice for the non-scientists taking part in this year’s bioblitz?
“If you can’t snorkel and observe the fish swimming about, try to see what the scientists bring back to base camp. Like any land bioblitz, where the many insects gathered are so interesting and new to many people, this bioblitz will be a wonderful opportunity to see some of the small things that one might not ordinarily notice in the ocean.”