Scientists hold BioBlitz on St. Patrick's Island

Scientists working with developers on St. Patrick's Island are holding a 24-hour BioBlitz to catalogue the flora and fauna before it becomes an urban park.

Researchers will catalogue everything from bats to balsam poplars

BioBlitz scientist Steven Handel is part of the effort to catalogue species on St. Patrick's Island before it becomes an urban park. 5:37

Scientists working with developers on St. Patrick's Island are holding a 24-hour BioBlitz to make a record of every living thing on the island.

Researchers will catalogue everything from bats, birds and bumblebees to balsam poplars and weeds to create a baseline of biodiversity before the island becomes an urban park. Volunteers and scientists will head to the park Friday night and stay there until Saturday evening.

"Nature isn't just in the mountains. We have nature here in the cities as well," said Steven Handel, a restoration ecologist with Rutgers University and lead scientist for BioBlitz.

"St. Patrick's [Island] has been there for thousands of years and has been used for many, many things. What we want to know is what living species are still there?"

The island is in the process of being developed into an urban park.

It will include a 12.5-hectare park, a beach, running paths and small amphitheatre.

It is closed to the public for roughly two years so that developers can complete the $20-million makeover.

"What we've done is get a lot of experts from the University of Calgary and Mount Royal to come in and help me identify everything there — plants, animals, insects. We even have a specialist from Calgary coming in to look at bats tonight."

Soggy weather could dampen efforts

However, one factor outside of their control could make for a challenging evening — rain.

"What's going to happen with this rain is that many of the insects won't be flying," said Handel. "Insects could also be called bird food, so the fewer insects, the fewer birds hunting and the fewer bats hunting."

For researchers, the BioBlitz isn't just about creating a catalogue of species, although they do expect to identify hundreds of species over the next 24 hours.

It's about using that information to show people that nature changes over time and is important to people's lives, Handel said.

"Nature is more than pretty and an inspiration for art and photography," Handel said. "It's also important for cleaning our air, cooling our air, stopping our soil from getting into our rivers and so on."

They will also be using the records when deciding which new plants to grow on the island and how they can complement what is there already.

The goal is to create a park that represents Calgary's history and the local biodiversity.

"The restoration of St. Patrick's is to get people tied in to their local heritage," Handel said. "[It] will be the natural heritage of Calgary, improved and shown to all the people of the area."