Swamp celebrated

More than 2,500 attend BioBlitz at Jean Lafitte Park

Most New Orleanians will tell you the world’s greatest festivals are held in and around the Crescent City. Another one took place Friday and Saturday, although instead of great food and music, it was rich with insects, reptiles and even nearly microscopic organisms known as water bears.

The seventh annual BioBlitz at Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve’s Barataria site attracted more than 2,500 festivalgoers during the two-day event, including many school-age children. On the schedule for those in attendance included shows, hands-on activities, nature and culture exhibitor booths and even swamp and boat tours on the edge of Lake Salvador.

It was just as exciting for most of the park’s staff, as it is considered an honor to hold the event, Park Ranger Kristy Wallisch said.

“It has been a lot of work, but it’s sort of like throwing a giant party at your house,” Wallisch said. “There’s so much to do, but once it gets going, you say, ‘This is so much fun!’ And it’s all worth it. You see those kids, and you just smile.”

For those who are regulars, this year’s BioBlitz couldn’t have been more different than the last two, which were held in the high altitude of Rocky Mountain National Park near Denver in 2012 and the desert of Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Ariz., in 2011.

“The Rocky Mountains had about 2,000 meters of elevation change, so you get all these different life zones. Then, there’s only about 2 meters of elevation change here,” said Sean O’Connor, who is a program manager for the event’s co-sponsor, National Geographic. “Nonetheless, there is an amazing diversity here; it’s pretty wild. I have to admit this is one of my favorites.

“I love the desert, but the bayou is wonderful. This might sound silly, but the armadillos are such a charismatic animal. I have enjoyed them, and really loved the birding trip we went on (Saturday) morning.”

The best part of the event for local staffers is not just being host of a party, but the fact they are learning all the while. Some might not find it interesting the water bear can survive temperatures as cold as absolute zero or as steaming hot as boiling water, but many park staffers and researchers — always in search of new information — think it’s fascinating.

After everyone has gone and things get back to normal Monday, researchers will analyze the data and “spend months combing through this information,” Wallisch said.

While Friday was a day mostly for students on field trips, Saturday was more of a family day. Phil and Cathy DiSalvo, of Harahan, brought their young grandson, Brady, so he “can see all the nature.” They are regulars at the park, normally to observe different species of birds, and they say it is one of the best-kept secrets in the metro area.

“We’ve been coming since 1990, and we just love the nature and the birds,” Phil DiSalvo said. “We can take people on the boardwalk, and they can see alligators and a swamp and all sorts of things. When we have visitors come down, we bring them here and give them an hour-and-a-half tour, and they can just see what’s going on.”