Gustav Paulay has met a lot of animal species. As the invertebrate curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History and a bioblitz veteran, one might think that first encounters would be few and far between. But in the first two weeks of the Hakai-MarineGEO bioblitz, he’s looked into the microscope on multiple occasions and gasped.
“A bioblitz is a very intense effort to characterize all of the organisms that live in an area,” says Emmett Duffy, the director of the Smithsonian Institution's MarineGEO network of marine research stations. Establishing a foundation for further research requires an understanding of a region’s biodiversity, the engine of ecosystems, he explains.
Each morning, scientists go collecting in different coastal habitats from kelp forests to rocky shores to muddy sediments. Samples are brought back to the lab where they’re identified by experts and photographed. Then a small piece of tissue is removed for genetic analysis.
“We’ve brought together specialists from all over the world. We get so much done that way because people can actually interact with one another,” says Duffy.
In the first two weeks of the three-week bioblitz, Paulay estimates they’ve seen more than 1,000 invertebrate species. Many of them are new to science, and now await a proper scientific description and a two-part Latin name. There are bound to be more gasps to come in the final week. The sleuthing continues.