The Port Washington Monarch Butterfly Alliance emerges from its chrysalis

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Monarch butterfly released at the Summer Solstice, June 21, at the Science Museum of Long Island, Port Washington, 2017

The Port Washington Monarch Butterfly Alliance came out of its chrysalis on Earth Day, April 22, 2017.

The Alliance offers free educational and community-based environmental workshops that include resources for establishing private and public Monarch gardens. These include planting events across the Town of North Hempstead throughout the 2018 growing season, garden-based learning programs at local schools and youth centers, integrated nature walks every Sunday from 3 pm to 4:30 pm in different places around the Town of North Hempstead, and a thriving community of individuals interested in helping Monarch butterflies and the environment.

The main goals of this Alliance are to turn Port Washington—garden by garden and habitat by habitat—into a Sanctuary for Monarch Butterflies and other wildlife; to promote biological diversity; and to make experiences in nature more accessible to the community.

The terms “biological diversity,” or “biodiversity,” refer to the varieties of life forms or the web of life.) Biodiversity encompasses ecosystems, communities, individual species, and the genetic variations of individual organisms.

Unfortunately, the number of migrating monarchs has dropped by roughly over half a billion to only 5% of what they were in the 1990’s. Monarchs are threatened with extinction–and they need our help. According to acclaimed ecologist E.O. Wilson, the very same problems endangering monarch butterflies are imperiling flora, fauna, and biodiversity around the world: namely Habitat loss, Climate Change, Pollution, Over-exploitation of resources, and Overpopulation.

Monarchs are an ‘umbrella species’ in the sense that protecting monarch butterflies protects and benefits all of the flora and fauna associated with monarch butterfly habitats such as gardens, meadows, farms, roadsides, waste places, stream corridors, and edges. Monarch habitats support many species of butterflies and moths, bees, dragonflies, migratory and breeding birds, native plants, and other organisms. Monarch butterflies are an emblematic flagship species that that heralds our need to protect biological diversity.

Creating habitats for Monarchs helps to enhance our region’s environmental resilience and protect the health of local biodiversity and habitats.

“The state of Monarchs reflects the health of the American landscape and its pollinators,” the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said. “Monarch declines are symptomatic of environmental problems that also pose risks to food production, the spectacular natural places that help define our national identity, and our own health. Conserving and connecting habitat for monarchs will benefit many other plants and animals, including critical insect and avian pollinators, and future generations of Americans.”

What can you do? The good news is that everyone can start conserving and protecting monarch populations right in their own backyards by planting or placing milkweed and nectar plants in the ground or in a pot. While taking action in this way is relatively simple, there are a few pointers that can help you get underway for spring planting. Milkweed plants are essential—they’re the only plant that monarch caterpillars feed on. If you plant it, they will come!

Monarch habitats are sites containing a variety of nectar-producing plants, especially milkweed, a family of plants that is the sole host for Monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars. Like oases, these habitats serve as connections or steppingstones linking populations of Monarch butterflies and a diversity of wildlife over the course of their migratory cycles and ranges.

In Nassau County, even small gardens can serve as connections or stepping stones between habitats, linking populations of butterflies, other insects, and birds. Over 70 species of wild bees have been found in gardens in the region, including unique groups of species not found elsewhere. Gardens provide food, resting, and nesting habitat throughout the year, and are important to many species of migratory butterflies, birds, and dragonflies.

Another way to help is by attending Port Washington Monarch Butterfly Alliance. The workshops turn the practice of raising Monarch Butterflies into a learning experience for adults and children.

These fragile creatures travel thousands of miles, and their full migration cycle, from Mexico to northern New England and back, takes four generations to complete, with each generation traveling to areas they’ve never seen before. The metamorphoses, journeys, and reproductive cycles of the Monarch butterfly make it an excellent species for close observation and learning, stimulating curiosity and shining a light on a great mystery of the natural world.

Participants will receive free local plants, caterpillars, equipment, storybooks, and the training needed to raise and release monarch butterflies and create butterfly gardens in their homes, schools, and gardens. This provides young children with the breathtaking and beautiful opportunity of collecting, raising, and releasing newly hatched butterflies into the wild to join the migration. It is an experience that many of them will never forget.

Participants will also be introduced to the surprising plants and animals associated with Monarchs as the Monarchs go through their brief reproductive life cycle in Port Washington along their migratory route from Mexico and back each year. By releasing monarch butterflies into the world to join their migration and by planting seeds, participants will be supporting the growth and health of this imperiled species, pollinators, and local biodiversity.

Attending workshops, nature walks, or other community events, you will meet other naturalists and Monarch heroes who are applying workshop training and planting community gardens all around Port. One member of the PW Monarch Alliance Team, Tanya Clusener, inspired by a PW Monarch butterfly workshop, raised and released 350 monarch butterflies this last year alone, and she gave over one-hundred children the breathtaking and beautiful opportunity of releasing the newly hatch butterflies into the wild to join the migration.

In the last year, PWMA has grown to be a collaboration of regional local schools, youth and community groups, public gardens, environmental centers, businesses, government agencies, and international Monarch conservation groups. We have expanded with a grass-roots team of activists leading diverse community programs and community initiatives. We created new Monarch butterfly habitats around the Town of North Hempstead. PWMA plans to establish 12 plantings and habitat restoration initiatives across the peninsula in 2018.

PWMA is also establishing butterfly gardens as centers for learning across our region and has joined forces with Full STEAMM Ahead, an organization created to promote and support all STEAMM based activities throughout the Port Washington Community. STEAMM revolves around the merging of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math and Mindfulness to produce more well-rounded educational experiences.

Our sister Initiative in Great Neck is working with local officials to promote the establishment of habitats and to lead environmental programs across Great Neck with plans to expand across Nassau County. The Port Washington Monarch Alliance aims to become a model program for other communities around our region and the country.

For more information about ways to get involved, the PW Monarch Butterfuly Alliance can be visited at www.PWMonarchAlliance.org or contact PWMA Director, David Jakim, at David.Jakim@gmail.com

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