For years, large populations of monarch butterflies have migrated to the central California coast each winter in search of stands of trees protected from the wind and cold. But since the early 1990s, the number of butterflies that make it to places like Natural Bridges State Beach here, or to the monarch sanctuary in nearby Pacific Grove, Calif., has dropped precipitously, from well over 100,000 per year to 10,000 or less today.
This is one of a very small number of clusters of monarchs that can be found today at Natural Bridges.
According to the experts, the reason for the dramatic fall in numbers is a general loss of milkweed throughout California, a plant that is required for the breeding of monarchs.
Now, as the population of monarchs that “overwinter” from late October through early March falls to dangerously low numbers, there is hope in the form of organized efforts to increase the amount of milkweed that is grown in California and elsewhere.
In an effort to save the butterfly population, an organization called Monarch Watch is “initiating a nationwide landscape restoration program called ‘Bring Back The Monarchs.’ The goals of this program are to restore 19 milkweed species, used by monarch caterpillars as food, to their native ranges throughout the United States and to encourage the planting of nectar-producing native flowers that support adult monarchs and other pollinators.”
The entrance to the protected monarch grove at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Although most of the thousands of monarchs at Natural Bridges are hanging from trees, or are flying around at 35 feet or higher, this one butterfly was crawling on the ground, adding a splash of bright orange to the otherwise gray and brown landscape.