In early July, Parks Canada, a recognized leader in conservation, organized the very first BioBlitz event in Sirmilik National Park and in the community of Pond Inlet. BioBlitz events offer an opportunity for all citizens to protect the environment and Canada’s biodiversity. This BioBlitz was part of the Canada 150 celebrations across Canada, creating opportunities for participants to explore biodiversity and contribute to our understanding of nature, local ecosystems, and species at risk. With funding assistance from the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and in collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada and researchers from Université Laval and Université du Québec à Rimouski, BioBlitz participants learned a great deal through science and Inuit knowledge.
The first day of BioBlitz began with a plant identification camp on the land. An eager group, mostly youth between eight and 12 years old, met Parks Canada staff to count and record as many plants as possible. Participants were provided with a magnifying glass; a ruler; and a quadrat, a survey tool that outlines the area to be observed and covers 1 m2.
Every day, the group became larger and larger as friends were recruited to join in the fun! A total of 40 community members attended the day camps over three days. In fact, participants were excited that the total survey time was extended from two to four hours. An Inuit elder also joined in to share traditional knowledge about the various uses of the plants and the surrounding land. Participants discovered that purple mountain saxifrage tastes sweet, white mountain aven flowers follow the sun all day, and Arctic mouse-ear chickweed grows on disturbed terrain such as roads, trails and rivers.
While the first group was having fun with the plant survey, another group flew to picturesque Paquet Bay in Sirmilik National Park. The Sirmilik BioBlitz team included Parks Canada staff, biologists, and Inuit knowledge holders. During the four days in the park, team members exchanged knowledge from different perspectives, increased their understanding of the area, and helped to gain a better understanding of the overall health of the Park’s ecosystems.
The group camped in a remote area of the Park. The English-Inuktitut interpreter was busy translating the enthusiastic exchange between elders and biologists. The elders, members of the Sirmilik National Park Inuit Knowledge Working Group and the Joint Park Management Committee shared their observations with the biologists, who asked questions and shared their own research.
The next day started with a walk to gather Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit knowledge). This location continues to be used by Inuit from Pond Inlet as an important berry picking area. The land in this area of the national park abounds with plants. Some are better known food plants, such as blueberries, while others are less well known, such as alpine bistort, “Inuit nuts” — or yellow oxytrope. The participants also saw sphagnum moss or puffball mushrooms, which are fairly common elsewhere however, their multitude of uses were new to many group members.
The group also visited nearby cultural sites, where the elders spoke of their connection to these places and the species found there. The team took the opportunity to conduct breeding bird surveys as part of a larger monitoring program run by the Canadian Wildlife Service. They spotted birds and recorded nesting behaviour of snow buntings, Lapland longspurs, and American pipits. The results from this and other surveys will contribute to a more complete understanding of the size and distribution of these breeding bird populations across the Arctic.
The research and learning continues well after the visit to the park. Specimens are sent out to be processed and identified by experts. The information gathered will be brought back to the communities neighbouring Sirmilik National Park — Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay — and will also be shared more broadly.
Events like BioBlitz provide meaningful opportunities for Canadians to connect and foster an appreciation for Parks Canada’s special places. They also help Parks Canada preserve and present the ecological integrity of its treasured places, including Sirmilik National Park, for present and future generations.