Goodbye blue butterflies

Today I read a heartbreaking story about how the Miami Blue Butterfly has vanished from its last Florida refuge. “The pale blue butterfly – about the size of a quarter – was once ubiquitous in the hardwood hammocks, pines and scrub along the Florida coasts from the Keys north to Tampa Bay on the Gulf Coast and Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic. But the region’s development after World War II slowly shrank its habitat until by the early 1990s it was found only in the Keys … No confirmed Miami blues have been seen on Bahia Honda since July 2010, and with each passing day it becomes less likely any exist there. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last August issued an emergency listing of the Miami blue as an endangered species and three similar butterflies – cassius blue, ceranus blue and nickerbean blue – as threatened.”

This is a case in point of a tragic situation that is playing out all over the world. In the U.S. Midwest, fireflies and bumblebees are declining at alarming rates. Soon I will be visiting one of the last areas where tiny bioluminscent organisms cause the water to glow — one of the many natural wonders I hope don’t disappear forever.

There are many animals — like the Sumatran tiger, panda bear, coral reefs — that are on the brink of extinction.The specific causes of these species endangerment are myriad — nonnative species, light pollution, chemical pollution, climate change — but all come down to habitat destruction due to development and human encroachment.

I know there is no easy answer. There are around 7 billion people on the planet who need a place to live and food to eat. Somehow, the symbiotic balance went awry. I hate to think of the suffering of the precious, inimitable creatures of the world and to know that the staggering biodiversity of our beautiful planet is in decline. I wish there was some way I could help.

To quote Brian May, former guitarist for Queen, in a speech he delivered to a room full of scientists, astronauts, artists and musicians (full transcript, entitled “What Are We Doing In Space?’ is found here; scroll down to read, it’s a great message):

We need new lands, do we? The Earth is no longer big enough for us? Right? So, briefly … shall we look at the damage we have done already to our own beautiful planet … a planet uniquely perfectly suited to our needs, and the needs of all the creatures who, as Richard Dawkins has reminded us, each at the pinnacle of their evolutionary path, worthily share the Earth with us. Looking at our planet from afar … it looks so peaceful, clean, gentle, unsullied. It evolved over millions of years, with its flora and fauna, its delicate balance of emergent LIFE. But this paradise, this Eden, is not showing us the hurt it has endured, in the mere couple of hundred years since Man became all-powerful. It’s hard to imagine, now, what the Earth was like, just 300 years ago, before we covered it with roads, concrete and fast food chains.

It was literally teeming with life. It’s said that when Captain Cooke first dropped anchor in the Seychelles, there were so many turtles in the sea, you could walk on them all the way to the shore.

It’s said that when the last rail was laid on the first railroad across the USA, you could travel from coast to coast and there was never a time when you couldn’t see buffalo.

Where do we even start to assess the impact we have had on our planet? Garik Israelian pointed out to me that, ironically, we have produced so much light pollution, that most of us can no longer see the stars from where we live … so maybe we have to go into space to see them!

A few months ago I wrote this poem after witnessing a lone butterfly fluttering around my apartment complex parking lot. The article I read today made me think of it:

Yellow Butterfly in a Parking Lot

Like something from a distant time, that doesn’t quite belong

Suddenly running into your childhood friend in an unfamiliar town

Or finding an old hat you haven’t seen in years

Two yellow wings aflutter on a Monday workday morning

Looking for a bush to land on in an asphalt parking lot

As it looped, seemingly confused, without a friend in sight

The Miami cars sped past. I couldn’t look away.

I too was late for work. But I couldn’t leave this living thing

This vestige from the natural world that looked so lost and so afraid

And as I drove away and looked behind, two men with big shears

Weed whackers and leaf blowers, went to work on the single sidewalk shrub

And my golden miracle was gone

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