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25 Nov

Can tourism help the Monarch Butterflies?

Every time we promote a trip to see the overwintering sites of the Monarch Butterflies we get a mixed set of reactions in social media. “Poor butterflies”.,.”We should just leave them alone”. That’s why we decided to write something about the issue, about what really threatens this beautiful species, and what initiatives are helping them out.

2018 was the best season for the monarchs in over 15 years! Great news. Could this have something to do with responsible tourism?

The following graph shows the amount of acres of forest occupied by Monarch Butterflies in their overwintering sites.

Mariposa Monarca Michoacán

Gráfica de World Wildlife Fund

The main threat to butterflies is pesticides. The plant on which the Monarchs place their eggs, known as milkweed, is considered an inconsequential weed. On their migration path, they fly through the Corn Belt of central USA, where hundreds of thousands of acres of corn, soy and wheat are produced. Seeds of which are modified genetically to resist the pesticides that are spread indiscriminately over huge extensions of land. These, in turn, kill everything that is not soy, corn or wheat, including the plant Monarchs need to ensure their continued existence as a species.

In the United States there have been large campaigns to plant milkweed alongside roads, in public parks, community centers and in private gardens all along the migration route (I-40, also known as Butterfly Highway). In Mexico there have been similar initiatives- well meant but possibly disastrous. The Monarchs travel back north to find the milkweed they need in spring. If they begin to find the plant all around, it might just halter the migration all together.

Planting nectar rich flowers in your garden will attract all types of pollinators.

In Mexico the butterflies are endangered by the loss of habitat at their overwintering sites.
Any mountain peak above 11,000 feet in the chain of ancient volcanoes that cross central Mexico will harbor some Monarchs. Illegal logging in this area has been a huge problem in the last century, but great efforts, including military campaigns have helped conserve federal parks and other protected areas.

What to do if you live in Mexico?

It is our responsibility to inquire about the origin of wood panels, beams and furniture so as not to support the black market. Only this way, can we help protect our mountain dwellers that provide water and oxygen.

Habitants of these mountains have a hard life, with few work opportunities. Most migrate to the US, to the cities to work as construction laborers or work in the logging industry (either sustainable or illegal). Members of the Rosario community, that administrate the Reserve, depend on tourism as an important income. For them, conserving the forest and assuring the butterflies’ wellbeing is paramount.

Alternare, A.C. is an NGO that has realized how important it is to work with the local community for the conservation of the Monarchs. You can visit their center to see the agro-ecology techniques and sustainable building they teach students from the region. Papalotzin, is a butterfly garden in Zitácuaro, that is a nice place to see the entire life cycle of these critters, but also teaches young children the importance of conservation.

Too much tourism?

At many natural attractions a carrying capacity is defined. Based on the environmental footprint of the tourists, social and economic needs of the community a limit is places on the amount of tourists allowed per day. So far, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve has not limited the amount of tourists. Respecting the reserve’s regulations keeps the environmental impact to a minimum.

Travel with our specialized guides to not only marvel at this incredible natural phenomenon, but also learn about the butterflies and what you can do to help them out. Fall in love, not only with the butterflies, but the majestic forest, the hosting community, and the greater living system.

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