Employee volunteers at PPG's chemicals research-and-development site in Monroeville, Pa., in 2001 partnered with the Wildlife Habitat Council, which helps corporations create and foster wildlife habitats, to create the "Wings of Wonder" monarch butterfly project in Monroeville.WHC helped to link PPG with Monarch Watch.
This year Monroeville employees are joined by their peers at PPG's automotive coatings plant in San Juan del Rio, Mexico, located about 60 miles from the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve where millions of monarch butterflies are now headed for the winter.
Monarch Watch, based at the University of Kansas, comprises volunteers across North America who capture, gently tag and release the colorful insects each fall as they migrate south. About 1 million monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains head for California and roost in trees from San Francisco to San Diego. More than 300 million monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains migrate nearly 2,000 miles to winter on forested mountaintops at the reserve in Central Mexico, according to Orley "Chip" Taylor, director of Monarch Watch and professor of entomology at the University of Kansas.
Scientists theorize that the butterflies navigate their way south by using magnetic fields, celestial cues, and by following land formations such as coastlines, rivers or mountains. Unlike migratory birds, Taylor said, monarch butterflies don't return to their native habitat and, instead, die after depositing eggs on their return flight. It's the butterflies' children or grandchildren that finish the trip to northern breeding areas. Monarch Watch is tracking the flight of the butterflies in hopes of unraveling the migration mystery.
"PPG is one of the few U.S. companies actively supporting the Monarch Watch tagging effort and it's the sole company in which employee volunteers are involved both in the United States and Mexico," Taylor said. "It's a wonderful project that is sure to create good will with Mexico. We greatly appreciate the efforts of the PPG volunteers. They're great role models. We hope this type of partnership can be enlarged and replicated with other corporations."
PPG is very proud of its employee volunteers and supports their efforts by permitting monarch butterfly habitats to be nurtured on company property at Monroeville and San Juan del Rio, according to David Cannon Jr., PPG's vice president of environment, health and safety. "Our employees have a long-standing reputation for being environmental stewards, supporting education and cultivating young scientific minds," Cannon said. "And this 'outdoor classroom' for monarch butterfly study is an extension of that mindset."
Volunteers at the U.S. and Mexico facilities are sponsoring involvement of local educators and students in the project. Earlier this year, the Three Rivers Habitat Partnership (a regional project of WHC) sponsored six teachers on a weeklong trip to Mexico. The teachers, who assist with the Monroeville facility's monarch tagging project, visited the Chincua and el Rosario Monarch Colonies (part of the Biosphere Reserve), the San Juan del Rio plant and three nearby elementary schools to meet with Mexican volunteers, teachers and students.
"It was a tremendous experience and the beginning of an international partnership," said Marcia Maslonek, director of the Three Rivers Habitat Partnership. "The American teachers shared their monarch observations, field study and education experiences and had a great cultural exchange.
"The centerpiece of the visit, of course, was a trip to the monarch reserves to see millions of roosting butterflies. It was an experience that defies description," she said.
It took more than two hours' hiking through a heavily forested mountain to reach the remote el Rosario colony, Maslonek said. The sights, sounds and feelings inside the reserve brought some teachers to tears.
"It was a very emotional experience for me to hear the whisper of millions of tiny wings," said Rocio Rodriguez, a fifth-grade teacher from the Colegio Real de Queranda elementary school.
Students and teachers at Rodriguez's school and two other schools built a large butterfly-shaped garden at the PPG facility replete with plants and flowers needed to attract monarch butterflies for their studies. The "Wings of Wonder" Web site (sponsored by the Three Rivers Habitat Partnership) serves as the hub for classrooms to access lessons, according to PPG-Mexico project coordinator Tere Maldonado.