This time last year, my family and I were in South Florida looking at birds and bugs and plants, and not just for fun (though it was): We were participating in the City Nature Challenge, an annual to-do for us. For our first two challenges in 2017 and 2018, we participated in our home stomping grounds around the Washington, D.C., area. Going to the Florida Keys, Biscayne Bay, the Everglades and points between was tons of fun and we got to see hundreds of awesome species, including several that we work on at Defenders that are protected by the Endangered Species Act. Those data are now part of a huge global database that scientists like those at Defenders are using to aide in species conservation. It’s great to be able to help defend our wildlife and their habitats at work and at play.
This past winter we looked at options for the 2020 Challenge. We considered places like Bogotá and Kuala Lumpur and the southern Appalachians—all areas with great biodiversity—and ultimately settled in January on the San Diego Challenge. (More manageable than overseas with a 3-year-old naturalist helping out, while farther out than our more regular stomping grounds in the East.)
Suffice it to say we’re not going to be traipsing around San Diego County for this year’s Challenge. We probably won’t even be making it to the Chesapeake Bay given Maryland’s stay-at-home order. I expect thousands of people around the world who were planning on traveling to look for critters and plants for the Challenge will be facing a similar situation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t contribute to a global community science project near our homes and neighborhoods. In fact, that’s what we will be doing, and I hope you can find some time to do it, too.
Especially in a time when scientists can’t all get out to the field to collect their data, helping to provide observations is important. Ultimately, the best hope for conservation is to have people all over the world aware and appreciative of nature in their everyday lives. The City Nature Challenge is just one piece of that puzzle — a gateway to getting you hooked on nature.
The great thing about the City Nature Challenge and iNaturalist is that everyone can be involved and it’s really easy:
- Download the iNaturalist app for your Apple or Android phone and create an account, or create an account at https://inaturalist.org.
- Go out around your home and neighborhood with your phone or camera, find critters, and photograph and document where they are. (The locations of imperiled species will be obscured so they can’t be harmed.)
- Upload the observations using the app or through the iNaturalist website. The app and other users will help you with identifications in case you aren’t sure exactly what you’re seeing.
That’s it! In addition to adding you own observations, you can participate by helping to confirm identifications that other people submit.
So as you’re looking for something to do that gets you out to help defend wildlife from home in this time of COVID-19, consider participating in this year’s City Nature Challenge as it starts up (in modified form) this weekend. Connecting with the nature we love while getting some fresh air and exercise is a great combination. I hope to see you—from a safe distance—out there!