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BioBlitz 2015: Where Hawaiian Culture Meets Science

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park — Part scientific endeavor, part outdoor classroom excursion, and part celebration of biodiversity and culture, the 2015 BioBlitz hosted by the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service has gathered some 200 scientists, park rangers, and journalists in Hawaii’s iconic Volcanoes National Park this weekend.

The objective is to see how many species can be identified in 24 hours. The strategy is to build on previous BioBlitzes to connect people to nature and involve “citizen scientists” in the stewardship of the environment.

Cindy Orlando“We are honored to host BioBlitz 2015,” said Cindy Orlando, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park’s superintendent, in a prepared statement. “BioBlitz provides an unparalleled opportunity to work alongside leading scientists and cultural practitioners to discover, count and add to the park’s species list; to explore the interconnectedness of plants, animals, Hawaiian people and our daily lives; and to protect this amazing biodiversity and rich culture in our park.”

Addressing the welcome dinner in the park on Thursday evening, Orlando said: “I mahalo [thank] all that you do to protect our parks and protected areas around the globe and all that you do to connect with and  create the next generation of park stewards. Tonight is about you.”

Representatives from Hawai’i Volcanoes sister parks in South Korea, China and Reunion (an Indian Ocean department of France) are participating in the Hawaii BioBlitz.

Michael Stebbins, the assistant director for biotechnology in the science division of the White House Office of Science Policy told the dinner audience that the Obama Administration was committed to exploring the expansion of citizen science to better understand how the federal government could involve non-trained people in doing science.

“One of the first examples that came up when we started to look at how the U.S. federal government is engaging in citizen science was the BioBlitz,” he said. “One of things that would be an extraordinary step forward would be to really expand the BioBlitz to a lot of other areas. So your ideas on this, given your experience, would be much appreciated…we are searching for ideas for how to expand citizen science and really engage folks.”

Expanding on the theme, Elaine Leslie, chief of biological resources for the Park Service, noted that NPS and National Geographic had nine years of experience to prove what a great event BioBlitz is, and how it really affects citizens throughout the Unted States. “If you look at what happened last year at Golden Gate, we engaged under-served communities among more than 9,000 people who participated, and we found new species to add to the list for the parks. Your efforts this weekend will aid the parks in planning, preserving and conserving natural resources connected to our cultural resources,” she said.

Participants in the 2015 BioBlitz at the "scientists dinner" in the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park last night. Photograph by David Braun/NGS.
Participants in the 2015 BioBlitz at the “scientists dinner” in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park last night. Photograph by David Braun/NGS.Connecting to Nature

“BioBlitz has to do with connecting scientists to people, people to the parks, and most importantly, connecting everyone to nature,” said John Francis, National Geographic’s vice president of Research, Conservation and Exploration.

Referring to the Polynesian stewardship of Hawaii, Francis said the islands had a community deeply wedded to the land, to the Earth, to nature. “There was song and dance, and a celebration every day of our connection to this delicate fabric of nature around the planet. In the process of coming closer to this BioBlitz at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park we realized that there is a model here that the world has to see, and that is about people every day doing this celebration, doing this dance. I came to thinking about this Polynesian way, not ‘Blitzing but being, an interesting concept we need to take and spread about the planet.”

To coincide with this BioBlitz, the park moved its 35th annual Cultural Festival from July to May this year and expanded it to include biodiversity. The two-day festival will celebrate how native Hawaiians lived closely to the land as its stewards, embodying “I ka nānā no a ‘ike” (by observing, one learns) principles that continue today.

According to a BioBlitz news statement, the Biodiversity & Cultural Festival offers hands-on science and cultural exhibits, food, art and entertainment, plus the opportunity to meet individuals and organizations at the forefront of conservation, science and traditional Hawaiian culture — and to learn how to join their efforts. The festival is free and open to the public.

The Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park BioBlitz is the ninth in a series of 10 BioBlitzes co-hosted by the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service at different national parks across the country, leading up the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016.

DSC05959“Each year, the BioBlitz evolves,” John Francis said in a news statement about the 2015 event. “Last year we moved away from paper data sheets and used smartphones and the iNaturalist app to photograph, identify and map species finds, adding more detailed information to both Park Service and international species databases. This year, we are going to build on that and blend technology with Hawaiian culture. This exciting, holistic approach will enhance our appreciation for the amazing resources in this breathtaking park and establish a more complete model for scientific exploration in Hawai‘i and around the globe.”

A longtime partner of the National Park Service, the National Geographic Society helped draft legislation to establish the Service in 1916. It has given many grants to create and sustain national parks across the United States and has extensively covered the parks in its media for nearly a century. The BioBlitz program is the latest successful collaboration between the two partners. The first BioBlitz took place in 2007 at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. Others have been held at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California in 2008; Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 2009; Biscayne National Park in Florida in 2010; Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011; Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Colorado, in 2012; Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve outside New Orleans in 2013; and last year in Golden Gate National Parks in Northern California. Smaller-scale events take place throughout the year at various national parks across the country. For more information, visit nature.nps.gov/biology/biodiversity/.

Verizon is the lead sponsor of the 2015 Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park BioBlitz. Generous individual, organization and foundation support has been provided by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas D. Rutherfoord Jr., Friends of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and Hawai‘i Pacific Parks Association, Harold M. and Adeline S. Morrison Family Foundation, Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, Edmund C. Olson Trust II, Hawai‘i Pacific Parks Association and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Additional generous corporate supporters include Kona Brewing Company, KapohoKine Adventures, First Hawaiian Bank, Roberts Hawai‘i, Alaska Airlines and Big Island Candies. In-kind donations have been received from Hawai‘i Volcanoes Lodge Company LLC, KTA Super Stores, Hawai‘i Forest & Trail, Impact Photographics and Aloha Crater Lodge.

This post was based in part on an official news release.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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