- Issue: Spring 2021
- Author: Kate Walker
MONARCH BUTTERFLY BIOSPHERE RESERVE :: MICHOACÁN, MEXICO
Above our heads, tens of thousands of monarch butterflies fluttered in every direction—bursts of orange dancing across the sky, swooping and tumbling in erratic patterns. Countless others rested on the ground, warming their wings so they could fly toward the tall oyamel trees, where they spend each night.
By my side were Beth Smith and Dennis Foreman, educators who’d recently won Natural Habitat Adventures’ 2020 Monarch Butterfly Scholarship Grant, and with it the chance to experience the arrival of the monarchs at their winter roosting sites. For the past two years, Nat Hab has awarded this opportunity to two teachers who make monarch conservation part of their curriculum.
Smith, who helps her students in Bloomington, Indiana, raise and release their own monarchs, excitedly snapped photos. Her dream, she said, was “to find a tagged monarch and notify the tagger that their butterfly made it here safely.” Meanwhile, Foreman—an eighth-grade science teacher and environmental advocate from Chillicothe, Ohio—filmed video diaries, narrating his observations while posing questions to his students from the field.
As we explored the reserve, its caretakers explained the monarchs’ behavior—how they migrate nearly 3,000 miles from North America to the Sierra Madre mountains each November—as well as their resilience and environmental significance. I was struck by our guides’ passion, rivaled only by that of the local townspeople who celebrate the annual return of their unofficial mascots in folk songs and in paintings on buildings and street signs.
Most magical of all, though, was listening to these monarch caretakers pass along their knowledge to teachers who were equally invested in safeguarding the species. At the trip’s end, I knew that when Smith and Foreman returned to their classrooms, they would not only pass along these valuable lessons to their students, but also share their infectious enthusiasm and inspire the next generation to protect and conserve monarchs.