The beautiful Miami Blue butterfly is only found in extreme south Florida and a small population once seen in Bahia Honda State Park near Big Pine Key is feared gone. Ricardo Zambrano, a biologist with Florida Fish and wildlife Commission, wil report on the current state of this endangered Florida Keys butterfly this evening, March 23, at 7:30 p.m. at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, mile marker 102.5 oceanside in Key Largo as part of its annual Delicate Balance of Nature Lecture Series.
According to http://myfwc.com/news/news-releases/2010/june/24/news_10_x_miamibluemgtplan/, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved a revised Miami Blue Butterfly Management Plan last June.
The FWC began updating the management plan in December 2009 as a result of new information received over the past few years.
“The new information required us to revamp the management plan to ensure we have the best possible conservation measures in place for the Miami blue’s survival,” said Dr. Elsa Haubold, leader of the FWC’s Species Conservation Section. “We are dedicated to giving this species the very best chance not only to survive, but also to thrive.”
Once, this thumbnail-sized butterfly fluttered as far north as Hillsborough County on the Gulf Coast and Volusia County on the Atlantic Coast. Suspected culprits, such as habitat degradation, fragmentation and loss, and pesticide and herbicide spraying, relegated the Miami blue to the Keys. After the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, scientists believed the butterfly was gone forever.
Much excitement accompanied the discovery of a small colony of 50 Miami blue butterflies in Bahia Honda State Park in the Keys in 1999. The FWC listed the species as endangered in 2002 in an emergency action after the North American Butterfly Association petitioned the agency. The FWC developed a management plan in 2003 to ensure a stable or increasing population to a level not requiring the endangered designation. Again, scientists were encouraged by the discovery of another population of blues in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge in 2006. A volunteer, on a walk with a refuge biologist, noticed the population.
The FWC concentrated its efforts in conjunction with several partners, such as the University of Florida, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Imperiled Butterfly Working Group, to monitor existing populations and research the possibility of raising the butterfly in captivity and then releasing it into the wild. Since 2003, there have been inroads and some setbacks, but the work continues.
The McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida, with funding from the FWC, the Wildlife Foundation of Florida and other sources, has been successful in breeding the Miami blue in captivity. However, scientists have been disappointed when they released captive-bred butterflies into the wild because, so far, they have been unable to survive.
After a period of public comment this past spring, the revised management plan included objectives for not only maintaining the two known existing populations but also establishing another 13 self-sustaining populations in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties.
“We are confident when we attain these objectives that the Miami blue’s population will have increased,” Haubold said, “and be better connected within their historic range, which will lead to the ultimate goal of creating a population of Miami blue butterflies that is viable and sustainable.”