Thanks to some volunteer master gardeners, the City of Atlantic Beach is rallying to do its part to sustain the otherwise-dwindling monarch butterfly population for generations to come.
The City’s new monarch butterfly bed, waystation and garden beside Sherman Creek at the City Hall complex at Jack Russell Park provides a highly visible and significant program to educate and involve citizens. It’s an endeavor to save monarch butterfly habitats while promoting interest in similar programs. The monarch is an iconic species whose Eastern United States populations have declined by 90 percent and Western populations have declined by 99 percent in recent years, according to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
The NWF-facilitated project was carried out locally by the City’s Environmental Stewardship Committee, Planning and Community Development Department, and Public Works Department; and Duval County Extension Service’s volunteer master gardeners. The Extension Service is a program of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“The team who worked so diligently to help us showcase the importance of the monarch, through this installation, is so much appreciated,” said Mayor Ellen Glasser. “It is not only beautiful to look at, but it serves a beautiful function. A perfect addition in Atlantic Beach.
Glasser ceremoniously kicked off the project by taking the NWF’s “Mayors’ Monarch Pledge,” joining a national coalition of mayors and heads of local and tribal government across North America committed to saving the monarch butterfly and other important pollinators. The NWF says that since 2015, the more than 1,000 Mayors’ Monarch Pledge signatories have engaged 8 million people and restored or enhanced more than 8,000 acres of habitat. The City also gave away native milkweed seeds on Earth day; native milkweed provides monarch caterpillars.
The idea for the project locally was introduced by Julie Rekow, the Jacksonville Public Libraries’ Beaches branch teen librarian.
Cities participating in the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge are creating native habitat in public parks, city landscaping, roadsides, medians, green roofs, community gardens, backyards, and open spaces throughout their communities to help support and recover populations of butterflies and other pollinators. The idea is for communities to do their parts to restore and enhance habitat for monarchs and other wildlife right where people live, work, learn, play and worship.
“Together these mayors are supporting millions of residents to create healthy habitat in communities that will help the monarch butterfly and bring the joy of nature to residents,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, the NWF’s senior director of community wildlife. “Together, we are helping to reverse the steep decline of the monarch butterfly population and ensure that future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy their beauty and learn about their unique metamorphosis and migration.”
In Atlantic Beach, City public works staff built the raised 12-foot-by-12-foot bed and provided the soil, and a handful of local master gardeners planted the garden. The master gardeners are now maintaining the plants.
The August garden installation already has inspired others to act by planting native nectar plants and milkweeds; in September, the nonprofit organization Meraki WellFest planted a butterfly habitat in the Bull Park playground area, and the City’s Cultural Arts and Recreation Department have added plants beneficial to monarchs. Glasser says that everyone can help by planting what the monarchs need in their own yard and throughout the community; indeed, before the City’s initiative began, many residents throughout the garden had installed butterfly gardens.