From the time of conception to the moment of birth, the length of an average human pregnancy is roughly the equivalent of a fourth generation, migratory Monarch butterfly’s lifespan – nine months. At five weeks, your fetus is the size of a sesame seed and as their tiny heart begins to beat for the very first time, the Monarch butterfly rests in its very own chrysalis, developing delicate wings. These are the very wings that will flutter 3000 miles from Canada to Mexico to mate and reproduce the next generation of the king of butterflies.
While four generations of Monarch butterflies are born and die within a year, the fourth generation of each year – the migratory generation – is tasked with the aforementioned odyssey. Every fall, the migratory Monarchs seek warmer climates – if the Monarch lives East of the Rockies, it will migrate to Mexico, hibernating in oyamel fir trees, if the Monarch lives West of the Rockies, it will hibernate around the Pacific Grove in California, in eucalyptus trees. The Monarchs migrate in millions – slowing down the speed at which their wings flutter to coast the 3000 miles it can take to get where they’re going. Once they have arrived at their destination, they tightly crowd together on branches, totalling roughly 15,000 butterflies a branch. One hectare of forest in Mexico can total 50 million Monarchs and while a lonely butterfly only weighs 500mg, 15,000 butterflies can bend a branch.
Climate change, however, has been impacting the migratory pattern of the Monarchs. Monarch populations are declining as weather conditions are affecting both wintering grounds and summer breeding grounds and resulting in habitat loss. Moreover, human activity is contributing to habitat loss. In Mexico, human communities rely on the same mountainous forests the Monarchs overwinter in. This agricultural clash paired with tourist activities further fuel the degradation of the Monarch’s habitat. Abnormal patterns of drought and rainfall in the U.S. and Canada breeding sites have also contributed to the deaths of many adult Monarchs. Additionally, herbicide use is decreasing the availability of milkweed – the Monarch’s primary food source and select plant for laying its eggs.
The international community, however, won’t let the king give up its throne. While the Canadian, US and Mexican governments (are preparing to) list the Monarch as “endangered,” wildlife establishments and non-profit organizations, like the World Wildlife Foundation, are working adamantly to protect and preserve hibernation forests. Working with the World Wildlife Foundation, Mexico has created the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve and launched the Monarch Butterfly Program, to allow human communities to live in harmony with and care for the migratory Monarchs.
Through the Monarch Butterfly Program, and with the help of the WWF, alternative income-generating ventures have been established, including sustainable mushroom and tree nurseries.
These mushroom and tree nurseries allow Mexican households to learn valuable skills, including ‘cultivation techniques, administration processes and how to manage the facilities’ equipment.’ These skills, in turn, have contributed to reforestation projects, producing 1.5 million trees, a year! Villagers work together to patrol these forests daily, looking for illegal loggers and forest fires. 2012 was the first year in which no illegal logging leading to deforestation was reported in the protected area where butterflies perch. Six years later, Monarch butterfly numbers are increasing – having seen a 600% rise in the last two years.
While anticipating the (hopefully positive) results of the Monarch population count for 2017-2018, let’s try our best to keep the bucket half-full and think of ways in which to make eco-friendly #dailydecisions. Check out my colleague Rachael Grant’s story, Knowing Kate, for ideas, including #strawrefusal and #reusablecups (both travel and menstrual), to do your part in #ourpositiveplanet!
Author’s Note: As I struggle to keep up with the impacts of climate change and making eco-friendly daily decisions, I feel myself racing against a clock that is counting down the seconds until the natural sights and sounds I wish to experience in person are no more.
This mini-series is glass half-full, bucket-list inspired. It is an active effort to remind myself and others that while we are busy living our lives, there are places and creatures that we have left unexplored that are feeling the impact of our daily decisions. Keeping the Bucket Half-Full is an exploration of environmental “phenomenon,” processes and natural wonders, what the global community is doing to conserve and preserve them and what role we, as individuals, can play in the fight to protect and preserve.
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