When the B.C. Parks Foundation set out early this year to solicit not cash but uploaded photos of species living across B.C. to raise awareness of its efforts to support parks, it seemed like COVID-19 was going to doom the effort from the start.
“We officially launched in March and then all the parks were closed,” said CEO Andy Day. “But I’m an opportunities-in-crises type of guy, and within a month we started to see a 33 per cent increase in visits” to provincial parks, compared with last year.
He said use of parks during the pandemic is up about 40 per cent this year, as public health officials touted getting outdoors as a way to safely boost mental and physical health during the lockdown.
The idea behind what it called B.C.’s big nature challenge is to encourage British Columbians whenever they were outdoors to document flora and fauna — birds, plants, fungi, animals and insects — and upload them to an identification app.
It set a goal of one million uploads and Day admitted it was “very ambitious.”
“I’m surprised we got there at all and I’m surprised we got there that early,” said Day. “I’m overjoyed and overwhelmed by the response.”
The million mark was met at the end of October, with “citizen scientists” documenting more than 13,000 species, he said.
COVID-19 forced many locked-down and otherwise isolated people to head out for walks and hikes, and the idea took off.
“It encouraged you to just stop and smell the roses, like literally,” he said. “It was a kind of meditative experience, where you’d be paying attention to plants, slowing down, having gratitude for all that is around you.”
The foundation paired with B.C. Parks, and the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University, to encourage British Columbians to upload their nature photos to iNaturalist, a global app and website run by the California Academy of Sciences and Natural Geographic.
UVic biology Prof. Brian Starzomski set his ambitions high, too, setting out this summer to capture a photo of a grappletail dragonfly, which he said had only been sighted about 100 times across Canada over the last century.
An official sighting of the rare and finicky insect hadn’t been documented since 1980 and its status in B.C. is “imperilled,” according to the South Coast Conservation Program. The dragonfly is also found along the U.S. West Coast to northern Mexico and its global conservation status is “apparently secure.”
“We went to a site where it was last seen 40 years ago,” said Starzomski, a biologist with the university’s environmental studies faculty. “There have been only 116 sightings across Canada since the 1930s.”
He found about 20 of them at Davis Lake Provincial Park, near Mission, where a creek flows into the lake, and 10 in a second location.
“They have specific habitat requirements. They like warm, clear water,” said Starzomski, who was photographed with a grappletail resting on his baseball cap by his friend John Reynolds.
The B.C. Parks challenge continues through 2020 and Day said it may be repeated next year, with a new goal.