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City Nature Challenge combines two of metro Atlanta favorite pastimes

SLS Tiny Turtle Pet Memorial

This tiny turtle makes its home in Proctor Creek, in Atlanta's Westside. File/Credit: Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain

By David Pendered

Two of metro Atlanta favorite pastimes – crowd sourcing and nature watching – are to come together this month in a competition led by the Fernbank Museum that involves citizen scientists from more than 100 cities around the world.

SLS Tiny Turtle Pet Memorial

This tiny turtle makes its home in Proctor Creek, in Atlanta’s Westside. File/Credit: Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain

The rules seem easy enough: Take a photo of any plant, animal or fungi in the nine-county area, upload it through the free iNaturalist app, and Voila – the image will be tagged and entered in the contest.

The event is the third annual City Nature Challenge and Atlanta’s inaugural participation is led by the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. The dates are Friday, April 26 through Monday, April 29, according to a report on the museum’s website.

Photos of sightings can be submitted from the nine counties closest to Downtown Atlanta: Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale.

Fernbank is playing up the enjoyment to be had in the event:

  • “Get Outside: Explore nature, either in your own backyard, local green space or state/national park; anywhere in the 9-county Metro Atlanta area works, including Fernbank Forest and WildWoods.”

The scientific importance of the event can’t be overlooked. The findings contribute to academic research being conducted on urban ecology. The Chicago Wilderness region reported significant findings during its 2018 event:

  • “Of our observations, 58 percent reached research grade, 34 percent still need identification, and 9 percent either didn’t have photos/audio or were captive/cultivated organisms (or something else made them casual grade).”

Though still common in their native metro Atlanta, flowering dogwoods aren’t faring so well in three Northeastern states where they were native and once plentiful, according to a report by plants.usda.gov. Credit: Georgia DNR

The City Nature Challenge started in California in 2016 as a friendly contest conceived by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco. The concept was to create a fun event, fueled by a regional rivalry and aimed at engaging average folks in the documentation of nature. The goal was to provide information that can help provide a better understanding of urban biodiversity.

Results were eyepopping.

More than 20,000 observations were recorded by more than 1,000 participants during a one-week period. More than 2,500 species were found, according to a report.

San Francisco took the bragging rights that year, with 9,389 observations filed of 1,551 species by 444 individuals.

The event drew so much attention that it was expanded in 2017, when 16 cities in the U.S. participated. Winners were divided into three categories and Texas came out on top:

  • Most observations: Dallas/Fort Worth, 23,957;
  • Most species: Houston: 2,419;
  • Most participants: Los Angeles, 1,034.

The game was on in 2018, when citizen scientists from about 70 cities around the world participated. San Francisco evidently had something to prove, as its residents swept all three categories.

This year in metro Atlanta, Fernbank has enlisted support from 16 partners, including the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance.

Members of the alliance have a long history of tracking biodiversity in the region around Proctor Creek. The area also is a laboratory for Georgia Tech researchers, who are working with area residents to capture a snapshot of the area’s biodiversity that can influence efforts to reclaim the area’s environmental heritage.

As some of the researchers wrote in a guest column published by saportareport.com:

  • “Community-based citizen science in part helps us re-imagine the roles of data, expertise, and storytelling. Stories of transforming communities – whether they be hawk or human – are best told by those with the deepest investment in these changing places. Eye-level with crawfish is a view that takes into account the fragility of our natural environs, the complexity of ‘inclusive’ community, and the wonder and excitement with which we might approach an agenda of truly equitable development in the years to come.”

Note to readers: For more information on Atlanta’s participation in City Nature Challenge, visit this address at Fernbank Museum.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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