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BioBlitz spearheads a census of species, because, well, it's in our nature

May 29, 2008|Kavita Daswani

"Biodiversity" may not be a word generally associated with the urban sprawl that is Los Angeles, but an upcoming event rooted in the city's more rustic spots may change all that.

BioBlitz, an annual event organized by the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service, will make its first appearance in California this weekend.

For 24 hours beginning at noon Friday, teams of scientists and naturalists will lead members of the public out into the wilderness to begin recording as many species of living organisms as possible.

"The idea is to get people -- and kids in particular -- aware of the nature in their own backyards," says John Francis, vice president of research, conservation and exploration at the National Geographic Society. "With the increasing distance between people in general and the natural world around them, this is one way to awaken an interest in nature, by providing a bridge through the park system and to people who are experts in studying nature."

The event has the vibe of an outdoor science fair combined with a pedigreed and ambitious science experiment. Some 120 scientists from across the country -- experts in everything from ocean to land, flora to fauna -- will lead a 200 teams, each with 10 to 12 people, through predetermined sections of several state parks for a few hours at a time. Each team will look for something specific -- a species of plant, butterfly, bird, creepy-crawly -- and all the information will be photographed and documented.

The project will give participants a hands-on opportunity to locate and catalog myriad specimens from nature.

"We're trying to include as much as we can of the 200,000 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains," says Ray Sauvajot, chief of planning, science and resource management of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

"And there will be lots of ways for people to participate. But our big objective is to raise awareness of the amazing diversity of plants and animals that live so close to Los Angeles."

The first major BioBlitz was held last year at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., where 1,000 people showed up. For the forthcoming event, Sauvajot says he is expecting 3,000 to 4,000. The base camp is at Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, and other sites will include Topanga State Park, Leo Carrillo State Park, Griffith Park and Malibu Pier and Lagoon.

There will be one BioBlitz -- most likely in a different state -- every year until 2016, when the National Park Service will celebrate its centenary.

Francis says the long-term objective of the BioBlitz project is to "light a fire in communities and to have schools and classrooms look at their own backyards so kids and teachers can learn what it is to have a healthy ecosystem."

To that end, the event will culminate with a festival on Saturday where the scientists will showcase what they and their teams discovered. There will also be live animal demonstrations, kid-friendly nature hikes and arts-and-crafts tables.

"It's about doing all the things we enjoyed doing as children," says Sauvajot, "and to get out there and do it with people who are knowledgeable and excited about it. Beyond that, it's possible that we'll document species that people have never seen before."

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BIOBLITZ AND CELEBRATE BIODIVERSITY FESTIVAL

WHERE: Paramount Ranch, 2903 Cornell Road, Agoura Hills

WHEN: BioBlitz: Noon on Fri. to noon on Sat.

Celebrate Biodiversity Festival: 1-6 p.m. Sat.

PRICE: Free

INFO: www.nationalgeographic.com/bioblitz

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