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McGUIRE CENTER NEWS,
Issue 7, April 2013
Monarch, freshly emerged adult, Florida
Caterpillar on milkweed, Monarch,
Danaus plexippus
Monarch pupa
The value of the environment has historically
been based on the presence of natural resources like
minerals, metals, fossil fuels and building materials.
With the advent of ecotourism, a new calculation of
land value is possible: one based on the assemblage
of charismatic wildlife and the natural beauty that
environmentally conscious tourists pay to observe
and experience.
This new era of conservation through ecotourism
is exemplified in one of nature’s greatest phenomena
– the annual migration of the monarch butterfly.
Each year, approximately 2 billion Monarchs migrate
thousands of miles from across eastern North America
and southern Canada to ancestral overwintering
grounds 100 miles west of Mexico City.
For the past several decades, lepidopterists,
molecular biologists and animal behaviorists from UF,
the University of Kansas, and Harvard have studied
these butterflies to unlock a multitude of secrets.
Each year, we learn more about how they migrate,
navigate and survive throughout the year in variable
environments and amidst growing environmental
concerns. Largely due to the findings and support
from these researchers, as well as conservation
organizations across Mexico, the United States and
Canada, more than 57,000 hectares of land have been
preserved as part of a United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage
Site termed the Monarch Biosphere Reserve. Now a
new contingent of conservation-minded visitors plays
an equally critical role in the future of preservation,
land conservation and research, with the McGuire
Center and Florida Museum of Natural History
leading the way.
Each year, professors, curators and students from
the McGuire Center and Florida Museum engage in
what is now one of the most powerful conservation
tools in the world today – ecotourism. Since the
founding of the McGuire Center, 320 ecotourists from
across the U.S. and world have joined 15 separate
ecotourism expeditions to witness the overwintering
monarch butterflies in Mexico.
The McGuire Center and Florida Museum Travel
Program’s sphere of influence in conserving the
Monarch migration event extends far and wide. While
on the trip, money spent on lodging, transportation,
food, park entrances, souvenirs and guide services
adds value to the area. Simply put, there are
significant economic incentives for local residents to
keep the forest healthy so visitors continue to return
year after year to witness the Monarch event and
support the local economy.
With deforestation being a major problem in these
areas, ecotourism creates a local conservation culture.
The idea that the forests are worth more alive and
well than if they were cut down for short-term profits
is easy to comprehend. When poverty is a constant
concern, simple economics is one of the most
powerful engines for change.
Inspired by the sights, sounds and stories from
these expeditions, participants often return home and
share the knowledge they gleaned from the trip with
friends, family and other community members. They
learn about benefits of planting milkweed to provide
hostplants for Monarch larvae, and I learned that
many not only engage in butterfly gardening following
their trip to Mexico, but start giving presentations to
local clubs and schools.
Ecotourism expeditions play vital role in conservation efforts
Court Whelan, Expedition Travel/McGuire Center ___________________________________
Before spring migration, Monarch overwintering site, Michoacán, Mexico