You, Naturalist

The astonishing world of nature and its many species is getting more connected around the globe, and even during COVID restrictions, you can be part of it.

September 1, 2020 -- To be outdoors in the Tennessee Valley in nearly any season is to be surrounded by a riot of color, sound and movement. There is life, everywhere, even in the fallow months—for this is one of the most biologically diverse regions of the United States, if not the entire world.

From wildflowers and trees to birds and bees and everything in between, there is much flora and fauna to observe in our region of plenty, and TVA public lands are great places to go and do it.

Indeed, in partnership with Discover Life in America, TVA has hosted six BioBlitz events in which the public was invited to participate along with scientists and specialists in daylong biological inventories at locations along its waterways, including Norris, Tellico, Melton Hill, Nickajack, Watts Bar and Wilson.

“The BioBlitzes were a great way for us to get a realistic catalog of what’s on our lands to help us better manage and protect them,” explains Tiffany Foster, partnership and educational outreach specialist for TVA Natural Resources. “At the same time, they engaged the public in citizen science and ecology in a really fun way.”

In fact, iNaturalist was in the news when a beach walker in Santa Barbara, California, uploaded a photo of a seven-foot sunfish that had washed up on the sand. A researcher far away in Australia identified the strange-looking creature as a newly-discovered species of sunfish that had never been seen so far north before.

“Eyes and ears and hands on the ground, half a world away—wow,” she commented.

You Can Join the Fun

Here in the Valley, you can help spot and identify species, too. The BioBlitzes have been a fun time to do it, but you don’t have to wait for events to return

“You can still download the iNaturalist app and go out on the trail at any time and take a picture of a leaf or bug or fish and upload it,” Foster explains. “The very active iNaturalist community will review your picture and identify it, and within a half-hour or so you’ll have an answer, and—in many cases—scientific grade data.

“The rare sunfish in California just goes to show that you never know what you’ll find,” she adds. “You might be the next person to upload something that’s brand-new, or adds new data that scientists didn’t have before.”

If it’s a new species to one of the areas that’s been BioBlitzed, it will be added to the compendium; in that way, you can contribute to the wealth of data on each of TVA’s properties. Conversely, you can review the store of information that’s already been found, and set off on a treasure hunt to find each species, as at least one East Tennessee middle school has done.

Either way, you can relish the connection to nature—and count yourself in as a partner in TVA’s stewardship mission.

“Our lives depend on biodiversity, and part of TVA’s mission is to connect people with their public lands,” says Bucky Edmondson, TVA director of Natural Resources. “This gives people a chance to be a part of something bigger, learn about the area they live in and hopefully grow a passion for protecting these resources for future generations.”