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Monarch Populations Plummet: 27% Decrease From Last Year
By David Mizejewski
The annual population status report for the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) has been released showing a 27 percent decrease from last year's population.
Populations of this once-common iconic black and orange butterfly have plummeted by approximately 90 percent in just the last two decades. The threats to the species are the loss of habitat in the U.S.—both the lack of availability of milkweed, the only host food plant for monarch caterpillars, as well as nectar plants needed by adults–through land conversion of habitat for agriculture, removal of native plants and the use of pesticides and loss of habitat in Mexico from illegal logging around the monarchs' overwintering habitat. The new population numbers underscore the need to continue conservation measures to reverse this trend.
A Look at the Numbers
The population is evaluated by measuring the number of hectares occupied by the monarch butterflies in their overwintering habitat in Mexico. This year there are an estimated 109 million monarchs occupying just 2.91 hectares (7.2 acres), down from 150 million last year covering 4.01 hectares (9.9 acres).
The monarch population found west of the Rockies, which migrates to California rather than Mexico, has also severely declined but looks to have remained at the same level as last year.
Despite the alarming overall decline in the monarch population, there is some reason to be cautiously optimistic about efforts to help monarchs. Shortly after last year's population numbers were released, severe late-season storms hit monarch overwintering sites in Mexico, which scientists estimate killed anywhere from 7.4 percent of the population to as much as 50 percent of some of the overwintering colonies. This mortality was not reflected in the official population number last year, meaning that far fewer monarchs actually survived to migrate north in the spring of 2016.
In the best-case scenario of a 7.4 percent mortality, the monarch population that actually migrated north was just 139 million, not 150 million and so only decreased by 22 percent rather than the 27 percent based on pre-storm population numbers. In the worst-case hypothetical scenario of 50 percent mortality from the storms, only 75 million monarchs would have survived to migrate north in 2016 but were able to build up their population to the current number of 109 million, showing a possible 45 percent increase in population.
Whether it was favorable weather conditions throughout the rest of 2016 or the restoration of habitat for monarchs across the U.S.—or both—these various scenarios show that if given the right conditions and habitat, the species has the potential to recover.
Get Involved to Save Monarchs
Even so, in any scenario, the species' population remains dangerously low. Immediate action is needed to protect and restore monarch habitat. The good news is that on the local level, individuals can get involved by planting native milkweed and nectar plants right in their own yards.
The National Wildlife Federation is a member of the Monarch Joint Venture, a coalition of groups working together to save monarchs and has made monarch conservation a priority, working to recover the species in the following ways:
Mayors' Monarch Pledge
The National Wildlife Federation has engaged more than 260 mayors and other community leaders in pledging to restore monarch habitat by planting milkweed as a caterpillar host plant, nectar plants for the adult monarchs, eschewing pesticides and other actions that support monarch populations. These cities and municipalities in the monarchs' main migratory flyway, from Austin, Texas to the Great Lakes, are committing to create habitat and educate citizens about how they can make a difference at home.
Get involved in the Mayors' Monarch Pledge.
Garden for Wildlife
This signature program educates millions of Americans each year on how to restore habitat for birds, butterflies such as the monarch and other wildlife right their yards, gardens and neighborhoods. The National Wildlife Federation recognizes such garden spaces as Certified Wildlife Habitats. More than 200,000 Certified Wildlife Habitats have been designated in suburban yards, community gardens, schools, places of worship, parks, botanic gardens, zoos and other public spaces. Entire communities, cities and counties such as Austin, Texas and Broward County, Florida have achieved Certified Community Wildlife Habitat status.
Get involved in Garden for Wildlife.
Monarch caterpillar in a Schoolyard Habitat in Connecticut. Linda Swenson
National Pollinator Garden Network
The National Wildlife Federation has helped convene an unprecedented number of conservation and gardening organizations, as well as garden industry members, to launch the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, a campaign to raise awareness on what Americans can do to help pollinators and register a million pollinator and monarch friendly gardens by the end of 2018.
Learn more about the National Pollinator Garden Network.
Large Landscape Habitat Work
The National Wildlife Federation is working with partners in the agriculture industry to establish more monarch-friendly practices such as adding preserving native plant buffer zones around fields and riparian areas, adjusting mowing schedules and spraying practices to minimize impacts to pollinator habitat. We are also working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, our state affiliates and state Wildlife Agencies to create state plans to conserve grasslands, establish power line right of way habitat and promote roadside habitat planting along monarch's main migratory route.
Learn more about Large Landscape Habitat Work.
This annual campaign aims at engaging kids and families in butterfly conservation. Participants pledge to plant butterfly gardens and receive a starter kit from the National Wildlife Federation which includes native milkweed or nectar plants for monarchs and educational and how-to information on creating a butterfly garden. This spring the campaign kicks off on March 27 and goes through May 19.
Get involved in Butterfly Heroes.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jennifer Molidor, PhD
Climate change, habitat loss and pollution are overwhelming our planet. Thankfully, these enormous threats are being met by a bold new wave of environmental activism.
Trump Makes Strange Claim About Water Efficient Toilets: 'People Are Flushing Toilets 10 Times, 15 Times'
President Donald Trump mocked water-efficiency standards in new constructions last week. Trump said, "People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water. So, EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion." Trump asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a federal review of those standards since, he claimed with no evidence, that they are making bathrooms unusable and wasting water, as NBC News reported.
By Carey Gillam
Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company's Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers.
A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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