I was fortunate enough to volunteer at the DC BioBlitz on the 100th year anniversary of the foundation of the National Park Service (NPS) on May 20th and 21st. A BioBlitz is a surge of people of all ages, no science degree required, to a designated location to find and identify as many species as possible in a short amount of time.
This BioBlitz, held on such an important anniversary of the NPS, and the tenth in the series of BioBlitzes hosted by National Geographic, was a special one. It was celebrated simultaneously across 126 different National Park locations. At our event, there was a live tally of all the species that were being found all across the United States. In a 24 hour period there were 50,000 observations submitted by participants in the BioBlitz to iNaturalist (an app you should check out!) and a total of 6,481 species were identified! This number could still increase as those observations are identified by scientists sifting through them on the app. It was reported that around 2,600 school kids attended the event in DC (take a look at http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/05/16/bioblitz-moves-to-washington-d-c-in-2016/ for more information). I sure thought I talked to a lot of kids, but I had NO IDEA it was that many! To see such an accumulation of NPS employees, nonprofit organizations, NGOs, volunteers, new and interesting start-up companies, and such interested kids and attendees of the event all in one place was overwhelming and awe-inspiring to say the least. I was volunteering for the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. At our booth we were really trying to get kids to think about nature and how it inspired them. In light of E.O. Wilson’s latest book, Half Earth, we tried to get them thinking about saving half of the earth, and if they could choose, what parts would they choose to save?
We asked them to draw pictures of what animals they would like to save, their favorite spots in nature, and then asked them to hang it up on our wall. We also asked them to color in our map of the world where their favorite places were and where they wanted to save. I am not ashamed to admit, having 2,600 kids come through the booth, I started to behave I bit like my mom. I found myself chastising two young boys for throwing rocks at some ducks. I worried nonstop and told the two girls that were helping us to stay near the booth at all times. I even followed a man that I thought was hanging around the booth a little too long without a child. I’m a little surprised at how young I became my mom but it had to happen some time!
The answers we got were extremely insightful, and we definitely saved every picture we were given! One of my favorites said, “It makes me feel like I’m me with no filter…Just simple, ME!” I felt like I could really relate to this and it shows how in touch all the kids are with technology (and believe me I’m not exaggerating).
Being there with all these grade schoolers, I felt extremely dated. When asked if she had been mic’ed up before one of the 4th graders said, “Oh yes I’ve been interviewed for a couple documentaries, once for my mindfulness class…” and my jaw dropped for the first time. When I took some girls I was watching to a virtual reality booth and they were asked if they knew what the items on the desk were…they both start listing off what everything was! Needless to say my jaw dropped for the second time. And it dropped for the third time when I actually got to put the virtual reality device on and felt like I was actually hiking up the trails in various national parks. What was really scary was when I was at a peak in the virtual world, there was a sudden breeze in the real world (I clutched the eyewear so I could somehow make sure I wasn’t going to fall).
What I found really exciting is this company, called Wildeyes, that has started traveling across the United States filming all directions of the National Parks. They have individual virtual reality headsets made out of cardboard that when combined with your smartphone and the 3D app, create a 360 degree viewing and listening experience. Their plan is to send these headsets classrooms, potential volunteers, visitors, scientists, and create a whole new generation that is interested in National Parks. After experiencing it for myself, I definitely want to go see Glacier National Park in person. Go to putonyourwildeyes.com for more information!
Overall I had a really great experience and I can’t wait for the next one!