View Count: 112 |  Publish Date: February 26, 2014
Bioblitz volunteers help catalog species

Karen Gill, 8, turned over a rock on the shore of Lake Merritt and a bug hopped out.
It jumped crazy high, she said. She caught it in a bucket and brought it to a group of people on a nearby dock.
Thats a sandhopper, said Rebecca Johnson, citizen-scientist coordinator at the California Academy of Sciences. The coolest thing about this species is that its not originally from Oakland. Its probably from Chile or New Zealand; we dont know the source for sure. It first came here in the 1800s on a ship returning from carrying lumber to South America.
Armed with iPhones and robotic underwater submarines, a couple hundred citizen scientists combed the water, air and land at Lake Merritt Sunday in an event called a bioblitz - a grassroots effort to document all the flora and fauna in a natural area. They found more than 200 species, from the majestic snowy egret to the multitentacled spaghetti worm.
This is part of the citizen-scientist movement to get people to think of themselves as contributors to science, said Dan Rademacher, co-founder of Nerds for Nature, a volunteer group which sponsored the event along with groups like the Lake Merritt Institute and the California Academy of Sciences. The data we collect today will feed into a larger ecosystem of worldwide data sets.Validating data
Technology fuels citizen science, allowing researchers to aggregate and validate crowdsourced data. Amateur astronomers comb through telescopic readings for signs of extraterrestrial life or undiscovered planets. Beachgoers document high-water levels during king tides. Enthusiasts count birds, bees and various endangered species.
At the Lake Merritt bioblitz, volunteers used an iPhone app called iNaturalist to photograph a plant or animal, add notes, automatically tag it with location and time data, and upload it for inclusion in big databases used by scientists, park experts, watershed managers and others.
The app is free and open, so anyone can run an event like this, said Ken-ichi Ueda, a lifelong nature nerd who wrote iNaturalist as a masters project at UC Berkeleys School of Information. Not a lot of people pay attention to weird worms under rocks, but this shows you can have fun doing that and collect scientifically valid data. We want to get people outside and feeling connected to nature.
Lake Merritt, designated as the nations first wildlife refuge 144 years ago, is a particularly resonant spot.
The estuary is the cradle of where everything comes to spawn and then go out to the bay and become fish or food for other animals, said Stephanie Benavidez, supervising naturalist with the Oakland Parks & Recreation Department. Its been a wildlife refuge since 1870 and despite all the land development around it, it remains a treasure.
Some volunteers joined bird-watching walks led by experts. Others formed a pollinator posse in the Lakeside Garden to identify butterflies and bees. One group climbed aboard a pontoon boat to operate OpenROV, a remote-controlled underwater submarine. Cool robots
Atom Glover, 7, manipulated video game-like controls to steer the submarine underneath the lake as it broadcast video to a laptop on the pontoon boat.
I heard about the robots and was like Ooh, thats just really cool, he said.
Another unmanned vehicle, a quad copter, landed at different GPS coordinates on the lake to sample the temperature and pH balance, as a flock of gulls screeched at the intruder in their midst.
A big plus of a bioblitz is recruiting ordinary people as ambassadors for wildlife preservation, experts say.
The direction for conservation in the 21st century is to get people to be passionate about nature right in their backyards, said Jennifer Rycenga, president of the Sequoia Audubon Society in San Mateo County. Were in the middle of the city but all around us is great biodiversity.
She peered into a massive birding scope mounted on a tripod. Anyone who hasnt looked closely at an American Coot, come over here, she said. Look at its feet; theyre so big and so webbed and so green.
A grassroots event where volunteers survey all the plants and animals in a park.
Upcoming bioblitz days: March 29, Crissy Field, San Francisco; April 20: Tilden Nature Area, Berkeley
Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @csaid

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Time: 1:31  |  News Code: 385116  |  Site: San Francisco Chronicle
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