DOINews: NPS: Students Advance Biodiversity Awareness

Last edited 09/05/2019

Biodiversity Youth Ambassador Ben Clark looking at maps
Biodiversity Youth Ambassador Ben Clark identifies locations of known biodiversity discovery projects in national parks across the country. Photo courtesy of Ann Roberts.

Last May a group of students (ages 7 to 13), teachers, and parents representing St. Ann Academy of Bridgeport, Connecticut, attended the National Park Service/National Geographic Society BioBlitz at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

During the two-day event, group members actively joined in compiling species inventories, contributing to the park's knowledge of its living organisms, and expanded their awareness of biological issues by attending exhibits, presentations, and educational offerings from a variety of environmental professionals, including staff from the NPS, Geographic Society, E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, Encyclopedia of Life, and various universities.

Inspired by the experience, the students (now known as the Biodiversity Friends) resolved to continue to raise biodiversity awareness in their home school and community. They organized a school-wide BioBlitz that included the entire St. Ann Academy student body (pre-kindergarten to eighth grade) and recruited graduate students involved in Project Limulus from Sacred Heart University (Fairfield, Connecticut) to assist them in field inventories.

In addition to the field activities, the event included a biodiversity festival with students researching and presenting poster boards on the ecosystems of different national parks across the country. They also prepared hands-on biology related presentations, attended a demonstration by the Connecticut Audubon Society with live raptors, and toured the entomology collection of the Peabody Museum at Yale University. Overall, 300 people participated in the St. Ann Academy Bioblitz, discovering 92 different species in a nearby estuary and field attached to the school grounds.

This past summer, one of the St. Ann BioBlitz student organizers, Ben Clark, visited the NPS offices in Fort Collins, Colo., met with Biological Resource Management Division staff, and reconfirmed his interest in helping the Service increase biodiversity awareness.

Clark was subsequently selected as the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate's Biodiversity Youth Ambassador. In this capacity, Ben joins a group of four other Biodiversity Youth Ambassadors – Dara Reyes, Valyssa Flores, Parker Hopkins, and Caleb Ezelle – selected by NRSS and the host parks of the NPS/NGS bioblitzes (2010-2013). Ben has already been interviewed by his local news station, News 12 Connecticut, on the importance of biodiversity, and was selected as a key interviewee for a mini-documentary by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, “Inspired by Nature”.

As a vivid illustration of the outcomes of engaging the energy, enthusiasm, and talents of our next generation stewards, a group of five St. Ann Biodiversity Friends, with parents and teachers, spent the summer raising funds to travel to Fort Collins in early November to present to NRSS staff on their involvement in the NPS/NGS BioBlitzes and school biodiversity activities. Staff from the Biological Resource Management, Climate Change Response, and Natural Sounds and Night Skies Divisions made reciprocal presentations and hosted the group on their explorations to Rocky Mountain National Park, the USDA's Pawnee National Grasslands, and Fort Collins' Reservoir Ridge Natural Area.

Now back in Connecticut, these students remain actively engaged. Regular correspondence with BRMD staff continues; Ben Clark has recently completed a mapping project which identifies the location of known NPS Biodiversity Discovery projects, thus providing a national perspective of these activities; and the Biodiversity Friends continue outreach to their classmates, friends, and community members, encouraging their attendance at March 28-29 2014 NPS/NGS Bioblitz at Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Said St. Ann Academy teacher Dawn Pilotti: “We are an urban school. Some of our students live in extremely poor conditions and spend their lives having to worry about survival in a crime-ridden city. They're now going outside, looking for 'bugs' and getting excited about biodiversity – and it's wonderful!"

By: Sally Plumb, biodiversity coordinator, NPS

Dec. 5, 2013

This story appears in the Dec. 5 edition of InsideNPS

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