On June 11-12, nature enthusiasts conducted a 24-hour “wildlife census” for Jamaica Bay BioBlitz 2010. About 100 volunteers documented over 500 animal and plant species at Gateway National Recreation Area’s Floyd Bennett Field. Scientists, college students, hobbyists and families crawled through underbrush and waded in saltwater to observe spiders, water birds, algae, horseshoe crabs, fish, frogs, mollusks, plants and fungi, among other species. Results are still coming in and will be updated as scientists receive lab test results.
Brooklyn College partnered with Gateway NRA to organize BioBlitz 2010. Rebecca Boger, professor of Earth and Environmental Studies at Brooklyn College, worked closely with National Park Service Biologist Jessica Browning to recruit researchers and volunteers. Shuttle buses brought volunteers and visitors to programs and field sites throughout Floyd Bennett Field. Many researchers were professors from local colleges, especially Brooklyn College, while many volunteers were college students in a particular field of study.
Gateway Superintendent Barry Sullivan, Brooklyn College President Karen L. Gould and Dr. Gary Machlis, Science Adviser to the NPS Director, blew whistles of red-tailed hawk calls to kick off the 24-hour event. Dr. Machlis then waded into Return-a-Gift Pond with researcher volunteers to collect tadpoles and other acquatic life. He noted the benefits and challenges of preserving nature at Floyd Bennett Field, once a municipal airport for New York City. “This is an extraordinary example of how the Organic Act needs to be acted out,” Dr. Machlis observed. “Preserve this unimpaired for future generations.” He added, “If it was easy, we wouldn’t be doing it.”
For a BioBlitz, the means of gathering data is just as important as the final species count. College students try out their research skills under the guidance of professors. Nature enthusiasts have the opportunity to expand their interests. Volunteer Anne Yen enjoys birding, but volunteered to help collect saltwater organisms because “I like it all.”
Gateway scheduled several interpretation events, such as “Seining at Sunset” and “Junior BioBlitz,” to attract people of all ages. Researchers, too, brought their children. At the closing ceremony, Allison Mass took the stage with one of her children to report her findings on fiddler crabs.
This was the 16th BioBlitz for volunteer Suzi Zetkus. “I feel lucky to be part of it,” Zetkus reflected, “because I see how it changes people. If kids aren’t getting outside and having the hands-on experience of a horseshoe crab, letting it move in your hand, they aren’t going to love it. They’re not going to save it.”
David M. Quintana, a writer for the blog Lost in the Ozone, volunteered the entire 24 hours of the event. He took over 70 photographs of the event. “I got my merit badge at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge [another section of Gateway NRA],” he recalled. “I would ride my bike down there. I would tell kids that I saw a snowy owl or thousands of snow geese .They thought I was making up stories. You get kids there and half the battle is won.”
Some volunteers were interested in Floyd Bennett Field’s “wild” nightlife. Elliotte “Rusty” Harold signed up for his first BioBlitz because he liked to photograph “cool, interesting insects. This is an unusual opportunity to find nocturnal insects at the park in the hours when it’s normally closed to the public.” Harold brought his own camera and ring flash, for photographing images directly in front of the lens.
At the closing ceremony, several researchers reported their findings, including Paul Sadowski of the New York Mycological Society. He was surprised to find an earthstar fungus, but “the best species to find [at the BioBlitz] is homo sapiens, to raise their awareness about our planet.”