Skip to Content

Monarch Spotlight: Citizen Science and Education - Monarchs Across Georgia

Sep 07, 2021


  • Monarch Conservation Spotlight

This article was written by Barbara DeRosa-Joynt, Division Chief for Biodiversity in the Office of Conservation and Water, US Dept of State. Photo credit Estella Romero.

One thing that makes the iconic monarch butterfly an extraordinary insect is that their migration and population span a large geographical area and touch the lives of people across North America and beyond. To support their lifecycle they require different habitats, resources, and conservation practices across this expansive range. This creates opportunities for you and others to be a piece of this conservation puzzle and focus on improving a mixture of habitats for this imperiled insect.

In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) and all of the diverse and critical work that goes into conserving pollinators, the NAPPC Monarch Task Force is bringing you the “Monarch Conservation Spotlight” series. The purpose of the series is to highlight some of the impactful projects, programs and organizations working hard to address the declining trend across North American monarch populations and bring you information and resources about how you can get involved. Join us to learn more.

This month we are featuring an interview with Susan Meyers about Monarchs Across Georgia.

Monarchs across Georgia (MAG) is a volunteer-led committee of the nonprofit Environmental Education Alliance, dedicated to monarch and pollinator education and conservation.  MAG facilitates educator workshops and citizen science trainings, manages a pollinator habitat certification program, has a Mexico Book project and coordinates the Symbolic Migration program.

MAG works primarily with formal and informal educators to provide them with the tools to reach youth – the next generation of environmental stewards – and offers a wide range of educational and outreach materials which are open to everyone with an interest and curiosity about the natural world.  MAG collaborates with teachers, students, families, communities, businesses, and others to study monarchs and restore butterfly habitat across the state.  Its mission is to inspire and cultivate stewards of the natural environment through monarch and pollinator education.

In a “normal” (non-pandemic) year, a small but passionate group of MAG volunteers would reach some 5,000 individuals through speaking engagements and events.  Over fifty formal and informal educators typically participate in hands-on workshops each year, bringing lessons and activities back to students in their school and/or youth groups.  MAG’s native plant sales provide opportunities for people to purchase appropriate milkweed and nectar plant species for the ecoregion.  In addition, MAG normally reaches over 1,200 teachers and students in Mexico with face-to-face environmental lessons and over 28,000 students in the United States and Canada through the Symbolic Migration blog site.

One innovative aspect of MAG’s programming, the Mexico Book project, is a literacy effort launched in 2004 to support the schools and communities around the Mexican overwintering sanctuaries.  Initially, educators and nature enthusiasts from Georgia, other U.S. states, and Canada traveled to the overwintering region in Mexico and donated books to the classrooms they visited.

In 2018, MAG was asked to assume responsibility for the fundraising and logistics of the Symbolic Migration program created in 1996 by Journey North, which was a natural fit and complement to the book project and is now another innovative aspect of MAG’s programming.  The Symbolic Migration program is an opportunity for youth in Canada and the United States to send messages of thanks and goodwill to students in the communities surrounding the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico through the creation of an Ambassador and individual life-sized paper butterflies.  These paper butterflies mimic the migration of the real monarchs, arriving in Mexico at the beginning of November and spending the winter there.  Before the recent pandemic, the butterflies were typically hand-delivered to students by educator Estela Romero of Journey North, along with a monarch-related environmental lesson, and during the pandemic efforts have been made to adapt to the situation and continue as health precautions permit.  Ms. Romero posts photos and stories of each of these visits at, allowing students in the north to learn about Mexican lives and traditions.  As part of the lesson, each Mexican student completes a letter which is returned in the spring along with clusters of life-sized paper butterflies to participants in Canada and the United States.  In recent years, the science- and nature-themed books donated through MAG’s Mexico Book project have been delivered by Ms. Romero to the classrooms participating in the Symbolic Migration, further strengthening the ties between the programs.  These symbolic paper butterflies build bridges of communication between students in Mexico, the United States, and Canada.  United by the monarch butterfly, children across North America learn important lessons of conservation, cooperation, and ambassadorship.

Who can participate in the symbolic migration program?  Families, home schools, nature centers, youth groups, classrooms, Spanish clubs, 4-H groups, scout troops, nursing homes, and other groups have all joined in this extraordinary effort.  This symbolic activity often complements classroom learning about insect life cycles and/or monarch butterflies while fostering these cross-cultural connections.  Participation in the symbolic migration can also build on and connect with lessons learned and the excitement of welcoming monarch butterflies into Monarch Waystation gardens at a school or residence, as well as engagement in the Waystation Network linking many of these gardens.

MAG relies heavily on volunteers and donations to undertake the considerable logistics required to make this program work, and with costs rising it has reluctantly had to impose modest fees for participation in what had previously been a free program.  This has unfortunately led to some cash-strapped teachers and schools being unable to continue to participate in this unique cycle of friendship and love for monarch butterflies.  Funding for teachers to continue to participate is vital, and some communities have benefitted from local businesses or private donors sponsoring classrooms or even entire schools to ensure that students can continue to participate in this enriching opportunity.

There is still time to become involved in the 2021 Symbolic Migration program and the new school year is right around the corner.  Are you interested?  Know a teacher or school or another group that might be interested?  Know a donor that might like to sponsor a local classroom, school, or group?  You can join this rewarding effort and help spread the word as you share your love for monarchs and foster the next generation of conservationists!  Please note that applications for the 2021-2022 program must be postmarked by October 8, 2021.  More information is available at the Symbolic Migration program website or by e-mailing

Alone no individual or entity can address all monarch conservation needs, but through collaborative conservation we can and will make a difference for monarchs and more. Keep following our “Monarchs Conservation Spotlight” series to hear more inspiring monarch conservation stories.