Engaging a Community to Help Monarchs

When 7th graders at Irmo Middle School, near Columbia, South Carolina, learned about a 97% decline in the population of monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico due to loss of habitat, they decided to take action. Under the direction of Science Teacher, Mr. Will Green, students began to research threats to the species, and began a community-wide project to re-establish availability of the milkweed which monarch caterpillars use as their sole food source.

Native milkweed helps pollinators. Photo by Will Green

Irmo Middle students have also actively engaged in community outreach: selling milkweed plants at the local farmers market, encouraging town leaders to plant milkweed on town property, and distributing student-created posters to local plant nurseries.

In collaboration with the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, the school presented the first South Carolina screening of the film, “Flight of the Butterflies” about monarch migration to nearly 500 students from area schools, giving each attendee a packet of milkweed seeds to take home with information about creating habitat gardens.

Students and Monarchs

Students tag monarch butterflies to help with international research. Photo by Will Green

This project is greatly increasing the amount of available native milkweed throughout the Irmo community. To provide habitat for monarchs, students have installed a ¼ acre native milkweed garden on the school grounds. Milkweed is critical to the survival of the monarch butterfly, and also provides a nectar source for many other types of pollinators. Students have been actively engaged in publicizing the need for milkweed to residents, as well as increasing the supply.

In addition, the citizen science project of tagging migrating monarchs provides valuable data to researchers and conservation biologists working to manage land for wildlife on a larger scale. Whether monarchs found in South Carolina migrate to Mexico or somewhere else is unknown.

Start This Project in Your Area

This project has brought the community together to work collaboratively toward a common goal. New partnerships have formed between the school and area businesses, town residents and community leaders. Irmo Middle students are learning how they can be an active part of their community, and the research/conservation community as a whole. These students have engaged the whole town of Irmo to make a significant positive impact on the populations of monarch butterflies, as well as other pollinators which are crucial to a healthy ecosystem.

Below are tips on how you can get a similar project started in your community:

  • Identify a leader in your community who can assemble an active team
  • Request permission to plant milkweed in a large unused space, or several smaller spaces
  • Work with a school group to create informative posters/signs to educate the public
  • Solicit donations from residents and community partners to purchase seeds and gardening supplies
  • Recruit volunteers to help plant and maintain the garden

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