The Monarch Butterfly is one of nature's most mysterious creatures. Every year, they migrate 4,000 miles from Canada to the mountains of Northern Mexico, in a four generation cycle. How the children and grandchildren of each generation find their way has been studied at length but no definitive answer has been found.
Since 2004, monarch populations have been in an alarming decline - a combination of illegal logging, wildfires and droughts severely damaged their habitat, with big empty patches in the once-dense oyamel (fir tree) forest. In 2004, an estimated 550 million butterflies completed the winter migration, while in 2013 only 33 million arrived. Further, between 2012 and 2013, there was a 44% decrease in the size of the butterflies' winter sanctuary forest in Michoac·n.
In 2015, we joined forces with WWF Mexico, the Mexican government and local community organizations to restore the Monarch Biosphere Reserve. When we started, we weren't sure what the outcome would be. Previous efforts to replant oyamel trees in the area had limited success, with seedling survival below 15%.
So we are especially happy to report that the planting that took place from May through to September 2016 was a great success.
This result is especially exciting as the team faced significant challenges. Planting took place on the ìcerro pelÛnî ('Bold Mountain'), a 3,700 metre high mountain accessible only via a winding footpath on foot or on horseback. Thirty local planters worked tirelessly for 3 months, hauling Cocoons, seedlings, water, spades and equipment all the way up the mountain in high temperatures by horse and by foot.
This is some of the toughest land to restore due to the steep slopes, lack of rain and fertile soils. The success of this project is attributed to the protection and support the Cocoon offers the seedlings in the first crucial 6 months of life.
Thanks to the Cocoon, fertile soil around the seedling stays intact when rain does fall, allowing the seedling to absorb moisture to its root system instead of being flushed away.
We continue to be blown away by the motivation of the people in the local community of Nicol·s Romero to restore the pristine mountain tops, the dense oyamel and, ultimately, the Monarch to these parts. On top of the reforestation efforts, they have set up a team of volunteers who work twelve hour shifts patrolling the nature reserve to stop illegal logging in the reserve.
To celebrate and share the successful collaboration between Land Life Company and the local community, CONAFOR, CONANP, PROFEPA and WWF, we took a group of journalists up the mountain on Valentine's Day this year. Staring up at the millions of fluttering wings above was a beautiful ending to the successful first phase of this adventure, one we can't wait to continue.
- Cerro pelÛní is the mountain where in 1975, Canadian biologist Fred Urquhart discovered that the small butterfly travels over 4000 miles from Canada to Mexico
- The name of the monarch butterfly comes from the small golden line on the cocoon - a lot like a bejewelled crown
- The monarch 'tastes bad' to predators, so has few natural enemies