Join a bioblitz to survey species on wildlife management areas

What’s a bioblitz? Think of it as a wildlife adventure where you get a chance to find, identify and catalogue all the plants and animals you see while exploring Florida’s wildlife management areas.

During this year’s 75th anniversary of the Florida WMA system, for the first time bioblitzes are happening around the state, guided by biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The first bioblitz was held at Chassahowitzka WMA on April 1, with about 20 people going out with biologists to look for reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects. More bioblitzes are coming up: May 6 at the Aucilla WMA; Sept. 23 at Watermelon Pond Wildlife and Environmental Area; and Oct. 21 at J.W. Corbett WMA.

“Many people on the Chassahowitzka WMA bioblitz were experiencing the beauty of this wild place for the first time. The group on this trek spotted over 80 species, including an alligator hiding in a gopher tortoise burrow, and 43 plants and animals were scientifically verified based on their photos, ” said Peter Kleinhenz, who helped organize the FWC bioblitzes.

Anyone can be a citizen scientist by signing up for a bioblitz. Just go to 75 and click on the calendar. If you miss going on a bioblitz, you can go out on your own and have a similar experience.

The FWC asks bioblitz participants to upload photos of the plants and animals they encounter in wildlife management areas into the iNaturalist app, using a cellphone or other digital device. Biologists with iNaturalist identify the species – sometimes within minutes or several hours, though it may take a day or longer. Sightings of Florida species then are being gathered on the newly created iNaturalist platform known as the Florida Nature Trackers Program.

“Anyone joining a bioblitz and helping catalogue wildlife sightings on the iNaturalist app is building a better inventory of the plants and animals living on Florida’s wildlife management areas,” Kleinhenz said. “Just imagine how this digital collection of Florida-specific wildlife data will make a difference in monitoring and conserving imperiled species and wildlife habitats.”

More than 30,000 sightings already have been submitted to Florida Nature Trackers, which went live in late February. This program includes a series of projects people can join. There are now 15 projects, including eight WMA projects. One project is on the Chassahowitzka bioblitz and others are on Florida birds, mammals, herps (reptiles and amphibians), insects, spiders and plant pollinators. In the bird project as of mid-April, more than 1,400 people had shared over 24,000 observations that included sightings of 446 species. Eventually each WMA where the FWC is the lead manager will have its own project on Florida Nature Trackers.

Texas, which has used iNaturalist since 2014, has had good results, including the uploading of over 40,000 sightings of reptiles and amphibians in the state.

The WMAs’ 75th anniversary celebration is ongoing throughout 2017, with the public invited to join activities such as a photo contest, geocaching contest, birding tours and volunteer days. It’s your chance to discover some of the nearly 6 million acres of wild and scenic lands in Florida’s WMA system. While conserving wildlife and habitats, WMAs also offer many opportunities for outdoor recreation for people who want to boat, fish, hunt, hike, bike, view wildlife or go camping. Go to 75 to find a WMA near you.