2012-06-07 / Front Page

BioBlitz survey of 600 island acres begins tomorrow

More than 300 volunteers will count every organism

If you’re driving on North Road late Friday night or early Saturday morning, don’t be alarmed if you see the glow from dozens of flashlights peeking through the fields and farms.

This weekend Jamestown will be the host community for the Rhode Island Natural History Survey’s 13th annual BioBlitz. For a 24-hour period beginning Friday afternoon and ending Saturday at 3 p.m., more than 300 expert and volunteer naturalists will scour approximately 600 acres of Conanciut Island in an effort to count every animal, plant, insect and fungus.

The parcel of land that will be scrutinized includes Watson Farm, Dutra Farm, Neale Farm and Hodgkiss Farm, the Great Creek area, the Conanicut Island Sanctuary, and the South Pond reservoir. More than 600 acres in all will be combed.

Jamestown was chosen to be home to the 2012 event because of its diverse ecosystems and habitats, which includes a tidal creek, a salt marsh, a coastal shoreline with a small barrier beach, extensive fresh water wetlands with wooded swamps, wet meadows and vernal pools, a reservoir, coastal scrub, herbaceous uplands, forested areas, open fields, pastures and actively farmed areas.

When the inaugural event was held at Roger Williams Park Zoo in 2000, only 33 volunteers participated. Chris Powell, the event’s organizer, expects almost 10 times that amount this year.

“More than 300 people have registered,” said Powell. “It’s nice to see so much interest.”

Only registered volunteers will be allowed to participate in the tallying of the various organisms, which will include, among many more, every fish, bird, mammal, reptile, ant, bee, spider, crustacean, beetle, mollusk, fungus and algae – both marine and freshwater.

“I don’t think I’m going to sleep,” said Powell.

About an hour after the study ends on Saturday, a preliminary count will be announced. The RIHNS will release official results at a later date.

Powell isn’t sure if Jamestown can break any BioBlitz records, but adds that he does expect to be surprised.

“Biologically, islands have less species,” said Powell. “That doesn’t mean we couldn’t break some records. We don’t know. I’m sure there will be some interesting and surprising finds. No one has ever done this before in Jamestown so we don’t know what we are going to come across.”

The 2008 BioBlitz at Westerly’s Grills Preserve holds the high mark with 1,112 different species. That year’s BioBlitz also set a record with 10 different reptiles. Other notable records are 178 species of beetles in 2002 at Eppley Wildlife Sanctuary in Exeter; 214 species of moths in 2007 at Trustom Pond in South Kingstown; 12 species of ants and 30 species of bees last year at Scituate’s Joslin Farm; 33 species of mollusks in 2010 on Block Island; 100 species of birds in 2003 at Pardon Gray Preserve in Tiverton; and 22 species of mammals in 2004 at URI’s Alton Jones Campus in West Greenwich.

Other hosts of the BioBlitz include the Norman Bird Sanctuary (Middletown, 2001), Mount Hope (Bristol, 2005), Cumberland Monastery (2006) and Sprague Farm (Glocester, 2009).

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