Let's be honest: what traveler among us has never dreamed of working with National Geographic? Exploring the great outdoors, discovering new species, photographing plant- and animal-life up-close… there's something inherently adventurous and cool about this company that's been "inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888."
And from March 28th through 29th, National Geographic is bringing the adventure to us right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. In celebration of the upcoming 100th birthday of the National Parks Service, National Geographic will be teaming up with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for a 24-hour "BioBlitz." Working with over 300 scientists and thousands of volunteers, these two organizations are aiming to document, catalog, and celebrate the more than 1,200 plant and animal species that call the Bay Area's National Parks home. And everyone – from locals, to visitors, to families and school groups – is invited to join the BioBlitz team.
Here's how it works: Over the course of two days, a team of scientists, naturalists, and other environmental experts will take groups of volunteers out to discover and document animal and plant life at a dozen different sites within the Golden Gate National Parks. From observing marine mammals at Baker Beach, to cataloging wildflower varieties at Crissy Field, to spotting Hawks at the Marin Headlands, volunteers can choose from over 100 projects to work on under the guidance of the scientists and naturalists.
While the main goal of BioBlitz is to compile an up-to-date inventory of all the known species in the area, volunteers should also be on the lookout for new species. At previous BioBlitz events in other parts of the country, teams have found new species to add to park rosters – at one BioBlitz in Florida's Biscayne National Park, one species was even discovered that was completely new to science!
To get involved in BioBlitz, just visit the event website and find a project you're interested in. Sign up for a two-hour shift in the location of your choice, then, if you have a smartphone, download the free iNaturalist app for iPhone or Android. Using the app, you'll be able to photograph, document, map, and identify the plant and wildlife you come across in the field, and add your findings directly to the National Park database.
Online registration for field projects will stay open until March 17th, but even if you don't make the cut-off, you can still participate! National Geographic and the Parks Conservancy will be throwing a Biodiversity Festival at Crissy Field in conjunction with BioBlitz. The two-day festival will feature food, art, entertainment, and hands-on science and nature exhibits. Whether you've just finished a shift in the field or are simply stopping by the festival for the afternoon, you'll be able to participate in workshops with National Geographic photographers, listen to panel discussions on local conservation efforts, and meet face-to-face with the people and organizations helping to keep the our National Parks beautiful.
Ready to come join National Geographic in the Bay Area? Base yourself out of one of HI's Bay Area hostels, several of which offer easy access to BioBlitz sites. If you're volunteering at Crissy Field or Baker Beach, or attending the Biodiversity Festival, check out HI-Fisherman's Wharf, located right on the San Francisco Bay in Fort Mason National Park.
For projects at Mori Point in Pacifica or Rancho Corral de Tierra in San Mateo, spend a night at HI-Point Montara. Just a 12-minute drive from both of these BioBlitz locations, the hostel's perched right above the Pacific Ocean on the site of an 1875 lighthouse.
If you're planning on searching for wildflowers, birds, or fish on a project at the Point Reyes National Seashore's Giacomini Wetland, stay at the only accommodation within the boundaries of the park: HI-Point Reyes. Nestled among the hills, the hostel is a great place to start any natural expedition, and is a short drive from the Giacomini Wetland.
And whether you'd like to track birds, bugs, or blossoms, there are dozens of BioBlitz projects in the Marin Headlands, where HI-Marin Headlands offers guests a peaceful escape just across the bridge from San Francisco.
Even if you aren't able to attend any of the BioBlitz events, you can still get involved from wherever you are! Follow the projects' progress on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using hashtag #BioBlitz2014, keep tabs using the iNaturalist App, or receive updates on the number of species found by texting "Bioblitz" to 50555.
To find out more about BioBlitz, check out the event's Facebook page. While you're there, be sure to enter to win a nature walk and workshop with National Geographic photographers – contest winners bring their own DSLR cameras, then spend four hours learning how to photograph wildlife from the pros!
For even more ways to get involved with the Parks Conservancy, check out our guides to volunteering, hiking, bird-watching, and redwood-spotting in our Bay Area National Parks. Then get out there, get some fresh air, and get your hands dirty! We promise your time in the Bay Area – and our parks – will be better for it!