The Curator of Invertebrates at the Toronto Zoo, Tom Mason, and Managing Director of Biodiversity at the Royal Ontario Museum, Dave Ireland, were discussing ways in which the science and naturalist communities might engage non-scientists in a meaningful, participatory way about nature within the city limits. The concept of a bioblitz, or an intensive survey of life within a specified area over some set amount of time, emerged as something that might work. What started as a pilot project in the Rouge Valley in 2012 has grown and morphed into one of the largest citizen science events in Canada.
Since 2012 the program has offered a “flagship” event within the GTA largely to raise awareness for the Program, and to demonstrate the wealth of nature in urban settings – as was originally the goal. These marquee events have covered most watersheds: the Rouge in 2012 and 2013, the Humber in 2014, the Don in 2015 and the Credit River Watershed in 2016. The programs’ flagship events are huge; in fact, next to the National Geographic Society’s 2014 event in California, the Ontario Bioblitz main event is the largest of its kind in the world. Some 500 to 800 volunteers register, including 250 of the best biologists in Ontario and across Canada. There is something for everyone at these events, from easy-entry public programs at base camp, to Guided Blitz sessions with taxonomic leaders, to intensive field surveys of all living things – fungi, insects, aquatic invertebrates, plants, birds, and other vertebrates, and even algae.
The Ontario Bioblitz Program is driven by and is successful because of a large group of partners. Each year the make-up is a little different, but generally those groups who share the mission and mandate of the program are welcome to join the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee manages the flagship event, as well as providing information, resources and advice to other community groups looking to start their own small (or large)-scale bioblitz. In 2015, there were 20 bioblitz events in Ontario that leveraged the program in some way, and were recognized by it.
The balance between public education and rigorous scientific survey is important, both for the scientists and the public, and the organizers have discovered how best to manage expectations and the process. Their model has been lauded by national and international groups, and is being used to scale up a national bioblitz project for Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. Watch for information on BioBlitz Canada soon.
For more information on the program, including events happening in 2016, check out: www.ontariobioblitz.ca
Contributed by Stacey Lee Kerr, Ontario Bioblitz