National Geographic Society Newsroom

Are you ready to Bioblitz?

By Stuart L. Pimm Another perfect day in paradise. The winds are light, the sunrise glorious, the sky blue all day. The temperature is a pleasant low 70s F and humidity is low. But then, most days at this time of year are perfect here in the Florida Keys. Yes, I know many of you...

By Stuart L. Pimm

Another perfect day in paradise. The winds are light, the sunrise glorious, the sky blue all day. The temperature is a pleasant low 70s F and humidity is low. But then, most days at this time of year are perfect here in the Florida Keys.

Yes, I know many of you have been suffering from feet of snow, week after week.

I’m not writing this to make you feel more awful about your winter than you already are. I’m writing this to invite you to paradise for the last two days of April.

Please come and spend a day or so on a small island, snorkel off a coral reef, and be overwhelmed with the diversity of marine life.

Biscayne Bioblitz 2010.jpg

In case you hadn’t guessed, this year’s National Geographic-National Park Service Bioblitz is at the largest marine park in the NPS system–Biscayne National Park.

And today I went up to visit friends there to see how they were getting on.

This is the fourth NGS-NPS bioblitz. [Read the blog posts about the 2009 bioblitz, in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.] Like its three predecessors, the 2010 bioblitz is very close to a large metropolitan area, in this case, Miami. But don’t let that fool you. When you’re here, you’ll be in a tropical ecosystem.

Although the tropic proper is just to the south, there are no frosts here, so the vegetation is a lush green year-round.

And this is the northern limit of the Caribbean corals. The waters here teem with brilliantly colored tropical fish. Come, and you’ll learn how to identify them–and, depending on what else excites you, the identity of every other living thing to be found here, plant or animal.

That’s the point of a bioblitz. Experts converge for a 24-hour period to identify species of everything–and there will be lots of experts to do that.


Driving into the park, the celebration of biodiversity has already begun. Along the road coming in and along the trails, are 360 flags–one for each degree of longitude. These are the vision of Miami artist Xavier Cortada.

Photo by Stuart L. Pimm

Each flag has an endangered species on it–from somewhere in the world. Some are familiar–a panda and an orangutan. But those who made these flags show an eclectic and international understanding of species at risk. There’s a Ganges River shark and a douc langur, too. Everyone who contributed a flag committed to doing something to help the species depicted.

At the Park HQ, Elsa Alvear, Biscayne National Park’s Chief of Resource Management, greets me and introduces me her to bioblitz colleague Deb Johnson. I quickly realize that their warm welcome has an ulterior motive.


Photo of Deb Johnson by Stuart L. Pimm

“We know you’re needed for the boat that will go to the deep water off the reef looking for pelagic birds. But could you also do one of the shorter inshore trips on the first morning?”

I volunteer.

What will make this bioblitz unique is that this park is almost all marine. So, experts, high school students, members of the public–everyone–will spend most of their time on or in the water, or very close to it.

“The land portion will be on Elliott Key,” Deb tells me. Elliott Key is a small island offshore. “We’ll shuttle people to and from there by boat.”


Photo by Stuart L. Pimm

Deb and Elsa are poring over a large Excel spreadsheet. The trick is to schedule boats and people and experts, not just to the places where they will search for species, but to and from the tents where the science teams will identify them.

Video by Stuart L. Pimm

Many of the species will be identified in place–one cannot remove them without harming them.

There are excellent field guides to the fish, of course, and to the birds. This is a prime time for birding in the Keys–late April is when millions of migrants leave their winter grounds in the Caribbean and South America and head north to breed in the USA and Canada.

Among the birding teams, one, led by colleague Michelle Davis, will be catching birds in mist-nets–soft nylon nets that hold the birds before they are quickly extracted. She will add a small metal band to a leg and release them immediately to go on their way.

Another team will be from REEF–the Reef Environmental Education Foundation — whose HQ is just across the road from my home in Key Largo. I’m a bird lister–never been ashamed of that–and I have a long and growing life list. REEF encourages fish listing–keeping lists of the species seen. With enthusiastic REEF tutelage, keeping a fish list is quickly addictive.

Just as with birds, the compilation of amateur lists provides an extraordinary database that we can use to understand where species are and how they are changing.

Elsa takes me around the small area of the mainland, which has trails and a visitor centre. “I’m so proud of this!” she tells me as we enter the center. There’s a model archway of mangrove, then exhibits of the different communities–shallow bays out to the reef and beyond. I’m impressed. So too was a young lady, fascinated by the colors of the model corals and fish.


Photo by Stuart L. Pimm

Finally, we walk out to the Bay. The signs are in English, Spanish, and Haitian Kreyòl. They remind us that Miami–whose skyline is readily visible to the north across Biscayne Ba–is a multicultural city, sharing its cultural diversity, like its biodiversity, with the Caribbean island to its south.


Photo by Stuart L. Pimm


Photo by Stuart L. Pimm

Stuart Pimm.jpg

Professor Stuart L. Pimm is a conservation biologist at Duke University, North Carolina. A former member of the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration, Pimm is the author of dozens of books and research papers, including the book “The World According to Pimm: A Scientist Audits the Earth.”



Read earlier blog posts by Stuart Pimm>>


About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Author Photo Stuart Pimm
Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He is a world leader in the study of present day extinctions and what we can do to prevent them. Pimm received his BSc degree from Oxford University in 1971 and his Ph.D from New Mexico State University in 1974. Pimm is the author of nearly 300 scientific papers and four books. He is one of the most highly cited environmental scientists. Pimm wrote the highly acclaimed assessment of the human impact to the planet: The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth in 2001. His commitment to the interface between science and policy has led to his testimony to both House and Senate Committees on the re-authorization of the Endangered Species Act. He has served on National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration and currently works with their Big Cats Initiative. In addition to his studies in Africa, Pimm has worked in the wet forests of Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil for decades and is a long-term collaborator of the forest fragmentation project north of Manaus, Brazil. Pimm directs SavingSpecies, a 501c3 non-profit that uses funds for carbon emissions offsets to fund local conservation groups to restore degraded lands in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity. His international honours include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006).