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Fish, bugs, birds, plants and more were on display — and surrounded — the participants of last week’s BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival at the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Citizen scientists across the Bay Area participated in the first-ever festival and students from the University of West Florida were among those leading teams that surveyed plants and animals.

While BioBlitz events have been held at parks in the National Parks Service system for years, Saturday marked the first such festival at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Participants use submersibles during the BioBlitz species identification and Biodiversity Festival at the Gulf Islands National Seashore Naval Live Oaks Area Saturday May 21, 2016 in Pensacola, Florida. The National Park Service and National Geographic have teamed up this year to host a National Parks BioBlitz throughout the country in celebration of the National Park Service Centennial.(Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO)

Participants use submersibles during the BioBlitz species identification and Biodiversity Festival at the Gulf Islands National Seashore Naval Live Oaks Area Saturday May 21, 2016 in Pensacola, Florida. (Michael Spooneybarger/Special to The Pulse)

“BioBlitz is a real special opportunity,” said Dan Brown, superintendent at Gulf Islands National Seashore. “It’s an opportunity to go out and take a quick snapshot look in a single day of all of the different lifeforms, plant and animal, that live in this incredible habitat here.”

Robert Turpin. Manager, Marine Resources Division at Escambia County BCC helps participants with a seine net during the BioBlitz species identification and Biodiversity Festival at the Gulf Islands National Seashore Naval Live Oaks Area.Robert Turpin helps participants with a seine during the BioBlitz species identification and Biodiversity Festival at the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Teams of up 20 people who registered for BioBlitz were led by science experts that explored the park looking for species including reptiles, insects, birds of prey and seagrass.

Cody Nash, a UWF graduate student led one of the groups that was trying to find raptors, such as eagles, red-shouldered hawks and ospreys.

“I worked with raptors for about six years,” Nash said. “I worked for a wildlife rehabilitator and my specialty was raptors.”

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Participants participate in the BioBlitz species identification and Biodiversity Festival at the Gulf Islands National Seashore Naval Live Oaks Area Saturday May 21, 2016 in Pensacola, Florida. (Michael Spooneybarger/Special to The Pulse)

Each team also included “iNaturalists” whose job it was to document each animal and plant found by taking a picture with their iPhone or iPad.

Stephen Buchanan, a UWF senior majoring in marine biology, had his microscope ready to identify some phytoplankton – microscopic plants – from some of the water samples taken Saturday.

Stephen Buchanan a UWF marine biology student prepares a microscope slide for visitors to look at phytoplankton during the BioBlitz species identification and Biodiversity Festival at the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Stephen Buchanan prepares a microscope slide for visitors to look at phytoplankton.

“Phytoplankton are a key component to the ecosystem,” Buchanan said. “They are pretty much the base of the food chain.”

UWF also hosted a booth at the biodiversity festival. There were also about 10 other booths hosted by environmental stewardship organizations.

The BioBlitz event achieves two goals, said Susan Teel, chief of resource education at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

“First, is for the general public to learn more about science and biodiversity and to participate it in it, and through that find out that science, plants and animals, are cool and fun,” Teel said. “And the second, is to gather information and data for the parks.”

creo-west-floridaThis article was originally published by the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity, or CREO.
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