Changing Planet

Facts and Photos From an Australian BioBlitz

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The eastern long-necked turtle may look slow on land but is sleek and powerful when it hits the water. (Photo by Jen Shook)

When groups from around the world gather in a place as wild as Australia for something as outdoors-oriented as the World Parks Congress, they’d better not sit inside wearing neckties and high-heels all day.

To that end, the recent congress in Sydney included a BioBlitz, an intense, public, 24-hour inventory of all the different living species in the area. Inspired by the annual BioBlitz held by National Geographic and the U.S. National Park Service, the Sydney event had volunteers and visitors from the community coming out to Sydney Olympic Park to meet up with scientists and naturalists to go on the hunt for bugs, birds, reptiles, plants, and more.

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The water features, wetlands, and forests of Sydney Olympic Park create diverse habitats for a wide spectrum of living things. (Photo by Melissa MacPhee)

Mary Ford, Senior Manager of Citizen Science at National Geographic was there, and here’s what she had to say about the experience.

How did you and your team participate in the Sydney BioBlitz?

We worked with the Office of Environment & Heritage (OEH) within the Government of New South Wales, as well as other partners from the U.S., Australia, and Canada ahead of time to share lessons learned from our own National Geographic/National Park Service BioBlitzes and helped to coordinate some of the logistics.

Our Great Nature Project Manager, Carrie Seltzer, set up a page on GreatNatureProject.org to document everything we found. On the day of the event, it was really fun to participate in the inventories and count many species I’d never seen before. To be able to count red-rumped parrots and laughing kookaburras was just incredible.

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Echidnas are monotremes, members of that rare and ancient order of egg-laying mammals. (Photo by Jen Shook)

What was the most exciting interaction you had with plant, animal, or person?

The coolest, weirdest thing we found was dog vomit slime mold. That’s it’s real name. It looks just like dog vomit, but it’s a slime mold (a slime mold is a fungus-like organism that use spores to reproduce). Kids were grossed out by it but also loved it.

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In another world, at another time, this incredible living creature may have been given a more traditionally beautiful name. Here and now, it is stuck with “dog vomit slime mold.” (Photo by Melissa MacPhee)

How was this different from the usual BioBlitz?

It was terrific to have Ben Britton participate. Ben hosts Ben Britton’s Animal Encounters on the Nat Geo WILD channel in Australia and is a popular TV personality. His enthusiastic support generated a lot of attention.

Also, Australia’s National Geographic channel sent a film crew out to document the BioBlitz and interview organizers and participants. We’re incredibly grateful for the channel’s support; it added a lot of pizzazz to the event and the footage will be very useful as we promote and support future BioBlitzes.

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A random sample of leaf litter from the woods becomes an entire world teeming with life for these young investigators and their guide. (Photo by Melissa MacPhee)

What did you learn about the overall BioBlitz movement around the world?

It’s growing! There are many BioBlitzes going on in the U.K., in Canada, and in the U.S. I met quite a few of the people who coordinate these events, and we are excited to share information and learn from each other.

I also talked to several people in other countries, including developing nations, who are very committed to starting up BioBlitz programs. I know there’s a BioBlitz being planned in Mumbai as we speak.

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Experts and newcomers alike get caught up in the excitement of looking more closely at parts of the natural world we often pass right by. (Photo by Melissa MacPhee)

What was the final species count?

There were 571 observations made and 170 species documented. Many of the invertebrates identified had never been previously seen in the area. OEH was thrilled!

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Just minutes from the famed Opera House and all the trappings of modern urbanism, Sydney Olympic Park provides an opportunity to see the land doing what it has done since long before humans built cities here. (Photo by Melissa MacPhee)

Intrigued? See where the next BioBlitz will be.

Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. He is currently beginning a new role as communications director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish.Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010.He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history.

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