By Christina Bagaglio Slentz
SAN DIEGO — Monarch butterflies can be seen in the San Diego region from October to March. But did you know the monarch butterfly is now an endangered species?
This vibrant North American migratory creature has experienced population decline, with the eastern population decreasing 48% from 1996 to 2014 and continuing to drop another 72% in the past 10 years. Even worse, the western monarch population, which traditionally winters on the California coast, has plummeted 99.9% in recent decades. Habitat loss, pesticides, the absence of milkweed on which they lay their larvae, and extreme weather related to climate change are major factors to blame.
Threat of Biodiversity Collapse
This rapid decline of the beloved monarch points to what scientists are observing as biodiversity collapse. Biodiversity encompasses the existence of almost every living thing — ranging from plants, animals and humans, to even bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms. All these living creatures are interconnected, or dependent on each other. Healthy biodiversity is critical to a thriving ecosystem, and human lives depend on ecosystem productivity. We, too, are interconnected, part of God’s brilliant design!
The biodiversity of God’s creation fosters the survivability of living things, the general stability of a species, and ecological capacity to support life. Biodiversity collapse is what can happen when too many living things are lost — like pieces removed from a puzzle or a Jenga game.
According to The Living Planet Index, wildlife populations around the world have, on average, declined by 68% since 1970, and this trend is not yet slowing down. Scientists have equated the crisis in biodiversity loss to the mass extinction event over 60 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period when dinosaurs were wiped out. Sadly, humans pose the biggest threat to biodiversity through habitat destruction, resource overexploitation, and contribution to global warming.
In his encyclical, “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis observes the earth’s resources are “being plundered” for short-sighted benefits, resulting in the loss of forests and woodlands, which in turn result in the loss of species “which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses.” The good news is we have the power to turn this environmental degradation around and preserve this gift of creation.
What One Parish Is Doing
In 2018, St. Thomas More Parish in Oceanside began planning a pollinator garden plot at the suggestion of Father Mike Ratajczak, who already had milkweed and other pollinator-friendly flowers planted at the rectory. Pollinators are key to fostering biodiversity! In particular, Father Mike held great hope for the monarch butterflies, as the California population had declined by 86% that year from the previous year. So, the garden volunteers rolled up their sleeves, determined to be self-sustaining, and used donated construction materials, mulch, soil and plants to build two plots. One plot offers edible herbs, while the other offers a pollinator paradise.
A critical feature of the St. Thomas More pollinator plot is native milkweed, which is the larval host plant for monarchs. In addition, parishioners have planted butterfly bush, lantana, and sages, which attract other butterflies, moths and bees. Thanks to a small grant from the Victory Noll Sisters, along with funds raised by recycling, cash donations from parishioners and the Vista VFW Auxiliary, and a generous grant from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, an irrigation system is being installed to nourish their ever-growing community garden surrounding the pollinator plot. Twenty-four fruit trees and five other flowering trees offer a valuable habitat for butterflies, bees and other pollinators, ensuring the next generation of plants.
St. Thomas More parishioner Sondra Parks donated a plaque to the pollinator garden in memory of Father Mike, who passed away last year. She also created and donated a beautiful succulent garden, planted in an old, “up-cycled” baptismal font, adding to the biodiversity of the gardens.