Durban — Budding scientists have the chance to be part of an international project when they join the Great Southern Bioblitz (GSB) this weekend.
For the next few days (96 hours) nature lovers or those looking for a new adventure are encouraged to sign up and record the fauna, flora, fungi and aquatic life that they observe during a specific time frame and location, be it a home garden, park, mountain or the beach.
The first half of the Great Southern Bioblitz, which is observing and capturing information, ends on Monday night and is followed by three weeks in which everything that has been uploaded in all participating countries is identified by experts from around the world.
Suvarna Parbhoo Mohan from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) said all you have to do is register on the iNaturalist platform and head out with your camera or smartphone to photograph as many plant and animal species as you can find.
She said it’s a great adventure for children and families and connects nature lovers from across the southern hemisphere in countries such as Australia, South Africa, Vanuatu, Bolivia and Ecuador.
While new species have not been observed, there are records of threatened species that face a high risk of extinction.
Parbhoo Mohan said last year one critically rare species, Metalasia humilis (plant), was found in the Hottentots-Holland Nature Reserve in the Western Cape.
“It was started in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic by the Australians who wanted to showcase biodiversity in the middle of spring in the southern hemisphere, unlike the City Nature Challenge which is an annual four-day global bioblitz,” she said.
Parbhoo Mohan said countries, provinces, cities or even district municipalities are called to participate.
“Conservation agencies choose sites that are data deficient or poorly surveyed to get members of the public to survey it, so it's a win-win where the public gets to go to sites that are most times not proclaimed, so they are not open to the public at all times, and for the conservation officials it’s getting members of the public or a whole group of people to collect data at a specific time and a specific space so they are getting lots of data for their poor data areas.”
Close to 40 regions with various sites had already registered in Africa at the start of this week; in Zimbabwe there are sites throughout the country, there were participants in most provinces in South Africa and in KwaZulu-Natal there are three regions, namely the Midlands, eThekwini and the South Coast. In total there were 26 countries and 183 regions which had registered to participate.
“So you can join one of the events already on the iNaturalist Facebook page or you and your kids can look at the local park and see what there is; it can be snails, frogs, flowers or you can go out at night in the garden to see what is around you.”
She sets targets for her team and if those numbers have not been met during the day, at night she ventures into her garden to observe and record what she can find. Usually it's moths, frogs or spiders.
She said last year they hosted a night walk in the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve in Yellowwood Park which turned out to be a wonderful adventure.
“You can do fungi, dead stuff, roadkill, the works. We also have projects for nests, feathers, bird calls, dead snails, or you can go to the beach and do intertidal stuff. Wherever there are rocky shores you can go there and capture stuff, like tadpoles and fish,” she said.
According to Parbhoo Mohan all you need to do is switch on the location app on your phone and when you upload the data it will indicate exactly where the picture was taken.
“So if you see a butterfly on a plant, those are two observations and you don’t need to know what it is. Citizen scientists will go onto the system to start identifying the species. And for the next three weeks experts will collate the info and identify it. So for instance if there are pictures of frogs then they will be sent to frog experts.”
Certificates will be sent to citizen scientists who have made 10 or more observations in a “correctly registered” area.
For more information email [email protected] or go to www.greatsouthernbioblitz.org
Independent on Saturday