If COVID-19 has highlighted anything, it’s how important nature and outdoor spaces are to a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. The BC Parks Foundation is hoping outdoor enthusiasts can help further that understanding by taking photos of plants and insects during their excursions.
Earlier this spring, the foundation launched B.C.’s Big Nature Challenge, with the goal of collecting one million photos from all across the province, to help learn more about the BC’s diverse ecosystems.
Here’s how it works: When a person comes across a plant or insect they’re unfamiliar with, they can upload the observation to iNaturalist, and a team of identifiers, along with iNaturalist’s artificial intelligence technology, helps determine the species.
To join the Big Nature Challenge, you need to photograph plants, animals, fungi, insects, tracks, animal feces, or other signs of wildlife, and upload those images to iNaturalist, eBird or WhaleReport, either through a smart phone app or desktop platform.
Andrew Day, the foundation’s chief executive officer, said B.C. has one of the planet’s largest systems of parks and protected areas, along with a greater diversity of life than anywhere else in Canada.
“British Columbians have the chance to do something really ground-breaking,” Day says. “Something that could lead the world in showing the power of people acting separately, and together.”
In the current social media-era, many nature and outdoor enthusiasts already take photos when they’re out exploring, so uploading is an easy extra step, Day says.
Emma Griggs, program manager for the B.C. Parks Foundation, told Black Press Media that with the help of explorers, the organization has identified 1,200 threatened or endangered species on iNaturalist within the last year.
Almost 600,000 observations have been collected in less than six months. The group has reached a total of 952,373 observations as of Sept. 30 – highlighting the importance of citizen science.
One spot that stands out to Griggs led researchers to identifying the rare grapple-tail dragonfly.
“It wasn’t seen for 40 years until a group of researchers were out this summer and saw 16 of them,” Griggs says.
The organization originally thought the goal of one million photos was a longshot. However, British Columbians came through as usual, Griggs says.
“Ultimately, the dream would be for us to go to the UN Congress of Biodiversity,” she says. “We want to present the campaign and the results as a sign of leadership and motivation for other provinces, states or countries.”
Next year, the foundation wants to keep the campaign going and hopefully double the amount of photos.
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