Hundreds Prep for "Bioblitz" of New York's Central Park

John Roach
for National Geographic News
June 26, 2003

On July 21, 1853 city officials drafted plans to give New Yorkers respite from the din that incessantly rang forth from their city's teeming streets—a park in the center of town on 843 acres (340 hectares) of treeless, rocky terrain and stagnant swampland.

A century and a half later, Central Park is one of the world's most recognized public spaces. It constantly hosts concerts, rallies, and weddings. It offers peace of mind to thousands each day. More than 25 million people visit it each year.

The greensward is also believed to be a hotspot of urban biodiversity. But scientists have never canvassed all the park's species in its 150-year history.

That changes tomorrow, when hundreds of scientists, naturalists, and curious volunteers will swarm through the park in a 24-hour "bioblitz" to tally every plant and animal species they can find.

"There has never been any kind of comprehensive survey of the park to try and catalog in some form all the living organisms across the spectrum," said Jeff Stolzer, a spokesperson for The Explorers Club.

The venerable non-profit, together with other New York City-based park, wildlife, and conservation organizations, is staging the event to raise awareness about global biodiversity by acting locally. Organizers aim to demonstrate that species diversity even exists in the center of one the world's largest cities.

"Biodiversity is a hard word to understand," said Elizabeth Johnson, manager of the Metropolitan Biodiversity Program for the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History. "Really what it refers to is our natural world—species and ecosystems and their interactions. It encompasses all life, is everywhere, and we are part of it."

Building Park Biodiversity

New York City purchased the 843 acres (340 hectares) of raw land that would become Central Park for approximately U.S. $5 million. Ten million cartloads of dirt, trees, shrubs, and plants lay the foundation for what the park is today.

During its 150-year history, the park has experienced periods of neglect and great vibrancy. It first crumbled from splendor in the 1910s and 1920s. The park was restored in 1934, but fell back into disrepair between 1960 and 1990. It has since returned to glory.

"It's the best it's ever been. It really has been wonderfully restored," said Regina Peruggi, president of the Central Park Conservancy. "It has taken a period of 20 years and there is still [U.S.] $50 million worth of work to be done. But the park really looks glorious."

According to Peruggi there are 275 bird species that call the park home for at least part of the year, making it one of the best birding spots along the entire East Coast. The birds share their habitat with over 26,000 trees, 150 acres (60 hectares) of water, 250 acres (100 hectares) of lawn, 8,968 benches, and perhaps the most unusual, diverse species of all—the New Yorker.

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