Hundreds of local grade school students joined scores of scientists today in the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve to look for as many species of plants and animals as they can find in 24 hours. It is the seventh annual BioBlitz organized by the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society, forming part of the run-up to the 2016 celebration of the centenary of the founding of the U.S. National Parks.
As with the preceding six BioBlitzes, this year’s inventory of species is in a national park adjacent to a major urban area. Jean Lafitte is a composite of cultural and wilderness areas in and around the greater New Orleans area. Earlier BioBlitzes in the series were in or near Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Tucson, and Denver. Parks alongside major cities are selected so as to give urban children the opportunity to be introduced to the natural environment in their backyard. In many instances, the BioBlitz has been the first time some of the students have ever visited a national park.
Students, teachers, and other members of the public are now fanning out across Jean Lafitte to look for aquatic and terrestrial species of every kind. There are also talks and demonstrations by experts, while local artists and musicians are taking part in a festival to celebrate culture and biodiversity.
The BioBlitz also yields valuable scientific research for local scientists and administrators of the National Park Service. At almost every preceding BioBlitz at least one species new to a park has been discovered. A preliminary count of species for Jean Lafitte will be announced at noon tomorrow, but the final official count may take months or even years to establish as scientists pore over specimens and data gathered from the field.