The Royal Ontario Museum - Ontario Bioblitz Program (Canada)
The seven #NatureForAll strategies offer solutions to a worldwide problem of disconnection from nature. They have been developed based on recommendations received from the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress and the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, and advice from #NatureForAll partners worldwide. They will continue to evolve over time. Not every strategy may be applicable in every situation, so our partners choose the one(s) that work best in their local context.
The goal of the Ontario BioBlitz program is to bridge the gaps that exist between scientists and the public, and between people and nature.
In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught. (Baba Dioum)
In 2012, the Royal Ontario Museum presented the first Ontario BioBlitz with what would become a continuously growing list of partners, including the Toronto Zoo, Toronto Region Conservation Authority, and Centre for Biodiversity Genomics. As the program moved annually to different watersheds across the Greater Toronto Area, the biggest challenge was always to find the best way to engage different levels of expertise in a meaningful way. It can be challenging to balance the intensive scientific survey of species within an area to get a true snapshot of that local biodiversity, while also providing opportunities for natural history knowledge and skills to be shared.
That challenge was amplified when the program was brought to the national stage in 2017 for BioBlitz Canada 150, when the ROM and hundreds of organizations and institutions joined the Canadian Wildlife Federation in presenting 35 bioblitzes from coast to coast to coast. The model developed through the Ontario BioBlitz provided a framework for successfully integrating the science and the outreach together.
What Strategies Contributed to the Success of the Ontario Bioblitz Program?
Strategy 2: Find and Share the Fun in Nature
One of the biggest draws that keep our Ontario BioBlitz participants coming back is the atmosphere of camaraderie and excitement. Being outside in different habitats while learning about local biodiversity in a team-based environment is a great way to foster a stronger connection with nature – one that lasts.
Strategy 3: Use Urban Gateways to Nature
All of the Ontario BioBlitz events have taken place in public parks and green spaces in the watersheds of the Greater Toronto Area. This region is made up of a largely urban and suburban landscape, and is home to more than six million Canadians. Surveying the biodiversity in these local watersheds highlights the species we can find in our own local environment. It’s a reminder that nature isn’t just something that exists in faraway “wild” places – it’s all around us, and we are a part of it.
Strategy 4: Embrace Technology
Technology is a key component to making the Ontario BioBlitz accessible to a wide range of expertise. Through mobile apps like iNaturalist, participants have field guides and species identification assistance right at their fingertips using their smartphones.
Between 2012 and 2017, the ROM and its partners presented an Ontario BioBlitz event once per year in four different watersheds across the GTA. These events resulted in:
More than 3600 species observed and identified, with all data made accessible and open-access online
An average of 500 registered participants per year
Several species identified for the first time in Canada – including the black purse web spider (Sphodros niger) in Rouge Park in 2013, and rare species that had not been seen in their respective regions for decades, like the endangered small-footed bat (Myotis leibii) in the Credit in 2016, and the slimy sculpin (Cottus cognatus) in Rouge National Urban Park in 2017.
BioBlitz Canada 150 saw 35 events across Canada, and recruited 10,000 Canadians to record close to 40,000 observations and more than 5700 species. This included 556 Species At Risk.
Biodiversity isn’t just about finding the rare species – common species that we see every day still matter, and are the first point of entry for identification skills for all naturalists.
Citizen science is a powerful tool for both outreach and meaningful data collection. Empowering the public by teaching them natural history skills through the immersive experience of a bioblitz will encourage more people to take action to conserve and protect biodiversity in their own lives.
BioBlitz parameters can be flexible – they can focus in on particular species groups or habitats, and last for different time periods ranging from a few hours to a couple weeks.