Alliance of nature, art groups launching ‘Monarch Initiative’

OKEECHOBEE – An alliance of four conservation and art-oriented groups, along with other partners in the community, is launching “The Monarch Initiative,” focused on the iconic, imperiled monarch butterfly, which has become a symbol in Florida and around the globe of the many conservation challenges that pollinators, wildlife, natural systems and people face in the 21st century.

Florida’s first Monarch Migrating Mural, being painted in Winter Park in January, shows the butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) native to Florida that helps sustain the species.

The Nature Conservancy is establishing a unique program alongside Full Sail University, based in Winter Park, to increase awareness of the value of nature in our lives and encourage conservation action. The Monarch Initiative is a multifaceted campaign of digital and social media engagement, on the ground activities, compelling outdoor art, and community partnerships.

The Nature Conservancy is the world’s largest conservation organization, working to protect lands and habitats that are critical to monarchs and pollinators and support healthy natural systems that sustain us. The conservancy is addressing climate change, leading sustainable agriculture practices on farmland and supporting greenspace in urban areas. In Florida, the conservancy has helped protect more than 1.2 million acres of vulnerable lands and waters, including most recently land in Glades County that extends a protected space for the Florida panther, and owns and manages more than 52,000 acres in 25 conservancy preserves.

“The Monarch Initiative brings the importance of well-functioning natural systems into sharp focus. Monarch butterflies rely on the same landscapes that support clean air and water and benefit all of us,” says Temperince Morgan, The Nature Conservancy in Florida’s executive director. “The initiative aims to inspire action from Floridians who are passionate about creating a healthier, more sustainable world. The world we depend on, also depends on us — as a community, we can build a future where people and nature thrive together.”

The orange-and-black monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, completes an astonishing, nearly 3,000 mile multi-generational migration from Mexico to the United States and Canada, and requires habitat in U.S. cities, on farmland, along America’s coasts and throughout our natural places. Meadows, marshes, pastures and fields offer the milkweed on which they lay their eggs, and upon which their caterpillars feed. It is required for their survival.

In the fall, a single generation makes the trip to Mexico to overwinter. Over the last two decades, monarch numbers have dropped by more than 80 percent, from an estimated 1 billion butterflies in their winter range in Mexico in 1996 to only about 100 million in 2016. Major threats to monarch butterflies and all pollinators include habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change. Like the “canary in the coal mine,” the monarch butterfly is a key indicator species of environmental health. Its dramatic population decline signals the need for urgent attention.

As lead collaborator and sponsor of The Monarch Initiative, Full Sail University, an award-winning educational institution focused on entertainment, media, arts and technology, is playing a pivotal role in helping to create needed attention. Full Sail is engaging its university community — students, staff, faculty and alumni — as well as community partners, including local municipalities, institutions and businesses, to create a broader reach and highly visible campaign.

The Monarch Initiative is further raising awareness through the Migrating Mural, an acclaimed public art initiative. Founded by Ink Dwell studio, the Migrating Mural is a series of public art installations that celebrate wildlife along migration corridors it shares with people. The installations add beauty to the local environment while driving conservation education focused on species and ecosystems under threat. This new multi-year Migrating Mural, which will stretch across North America mirroring the monarch’s migration from Canada to Mexico, focuses on this butterfly, their habitats, its role as a pollinator and the challenges it faces.

“Monarch butterflies and other pollinators are beautiful animals vital to the health of our planet, but they’re small and easy to overlook,” says Jane Kim, the artist who is creating the work and co-founder of San Francisco-based Ink Dwell art studio. “Public art of this magnitude makes them impossible to ignore.”

The Monarch Migrating Mural in progress in downtown Orlando this month.

The premier Central Florida mural, titled Milkweed Galaxy, has just been completed. Painted in exacting detail and spectacular color, the mural appears on the campus of Full Sail University across the entire front façade of Full Sail Live 3, located at 3150 University Blvd. in Winter Park, and is surrounded by new butterfly-friendly landscaping. The mural is highly visible to the public and cannot be missed from University Boulevard, where approximately 40,000 viewers pass by each day.

The second mural is currently in progress in downtown Orlando and is being completed in time for Earth Month, April 2018. The canvas – the wall of an entire building at 520 S. Magnolia Ave. – will be revitalized by an illustration of monarchs among their essential milkweed.

Monarchs and other pollinators foster diverse ecosystems and serve as a cornerstone to global food security. The federal government estimates that native wild pollinators contribute $9 billion annually in crop benefits to U.S. farmers. Many of people’s favorite foods – apples, potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, and onions – as well as staples such as cheese, butter, sugar and meat rely on pollinators. They are vital to the human food supply.

The groups have scheduled an invitation-only VIP/media event for the Monarch Initiative’s launch on Thursday, April 19, that will include showings of conservation efforts and the murals.

“This new campaign and the incredible art featuring beautiful but imperiled wildlife will capture the attention, interest, and heart of all who see it,” says the Nature Conservancy’s Morgan. “We’re grateful for our allies at Full Sail University and for the artistry of Ink Dwell, which enable us to showcase the beauty and magic of the monarch while encouraging action on behalf of essential conservation efforts.”

The Nature Conservancy is bringing several of its programs together to support The Monarch Initiative, to help increase awareness and engage people around conservation challenges faced by monarchs and pollinators, including the educational program Nature Works Everywhere, and the citizen science project Habitat Network. Nature Works Everywhere provides curriculum, tools, and grants to help K-12 students understand the science behind nature, and Habitat Network, developed in partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, helps transform residential landscapes into more diverse and healthier spaces for wildlife, and families.

Additionally, the Nature Conservancy is working with Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership committed to conserving the monarch butterfly migration by coordinating conservation efforts across the United States and implementing science-based habitat conservation, research and monitoring, and education.

The Nature Conservancy owns and manage more than 2 million acres of land across the globe, as well as the largest network of private preserves in the U.S. The vast majority of U.S. lands protected by the conservancy directly support habitat that enables milkweed to thrive. In Florida, there are 21 species of native milkweed, many of which can be found on the conservancy’s preserves and lands it’s helped to protect, including Disney Wilderness Preserve in Kissimmee, and Tiger Creek Preserve in Babson Park.

Monarchs and other pollinators foster diverse ecosystems and serve as a cornerstone to global food security. The federal government estimates that native wild pollinators contribute $9 billion annually in crop benefits to U.S. farmers. Many of people’s favorite foods — apples, potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, and onions — as well as staples such as cheese, butter, sugar and meat rely on pollinators. They are vital to the human food supply.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering protection for the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. Protection of habitat and proper management of working lands is essential for monarchs and pollinators around the world that need immediate attention and conservation action.

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