Today Curtis Bennett from the National Aquarium in Baltimore writes in to share his experiences from the 2015 BioBlitz at Masonville Cove. Here he explains his mission to conserve wildlife and engage the community through citizen science to preserve species like the iconic monarch butterfly.
The National Aquarium’s Conservation Department recently hosted its second annual Masonville Cove BioBlitz. Masonville Cove is an urban wildlife refuge partnership site in Baltimore, Maryland, encompassing 54 acres of upland area, including tidal wetlands and vernal pools, as well as 70 acres of water, which provide valuable habitat for a variety of plant and wildlife species. This annual bioblitz provides a snapshot of the biodiversity of Masonville Cove. The Masonville Cove BioBlitz is unique because it encourages local students and community members to work with scientists, provides exposure to the outdoor environment and local wildlife and it helps to build a strong connection to Masonville Cove.
From tracking biodiversity to connecting urban residents to nature and experiencing the power of observation and discovery, the Masonville Cove BioBlitz provides an example of how just one event at a single site can encompasses the core values of the Greater Baltimore Wilderness Coalition. This alliance, which includes the National Aquarium and the Service, supports a vision of expanding a connected and protected green infrastructure network in central Maryland, from the Chesapeake Bay to the Piedmont. Large-scale green spaces, such as Masonville Cove, within the Greater Baltimore area are critical in order to ensure the protection of local biodiversity. Additionally, environmental education programs such as a bioblitz, allow people the opportunity to explore these natural areas, observe the local species and learn how they can further contribute to conservation efforts.
Empowering people in Baltimore to engage in conservation action is one of the goals of the National Aquarium’s citizen science program, and the Masonville Cove BioBlitz is a critical component. This program encourages people of all ages to “get nerdy with nature” and make observations to contribute to science. This year, we made 219 observations of 164 different species! For the bioblitz, all observations were entered into iNaturalist, just one of many citizen science projects with a mobile application. However at each station participants were provided with information about other citizen science projects and apps, through our citizen science website.
When citizen science projects and apps are directly tied to specific conservation efforts, the impact is even more powerful. Not only does this increase conservation awareness but the project and/or app serves as the tool to encourage public involvement. During this year’s bioblitz the National Aquarium highlighted one such project/app- Journey North, which seeks to track migratory species, such as the monarch butterfly. Masonville Cove provides critical habitat for monarchs, given the presence of three local milkweed species and other nectar sources. Throughout the bioblitz, participants observed several adult monarchs and upon learning their conservation story, were encouraged to further conservation efforts by tracking their presence or by providing wildlife habitat through our certification program. Continued efforts to connect people to nature and empowering them to take conservation actions will ensure that species such as the monarch butterfly will continue to be observed at the Masonville Cove BioBlitz for years to come.