Future generations may never know the thrill of holding a beautiful orange and black butterfly on their finger.
On Tuesday, researchers announced that the number of western monarch butterflies wintering along the California coast has plummeted to a record low, reported ABC News.
Xerces Society, a non-profit environmental organization, recorded fewer than 2,000 butterflies in their annual winter count, a steep decline from the tens of thousands of butterflies recorded in recent years, according to the organization’s website.
This recent count marks a 99.9% population decline in the butterfly population since 1980.
“In only a few decades, a migration of millions has been reduced to less than two thousand butterflies,” said Stephanie McKnight, a conservation biologist with the Xerces Society who helps coordinate the counting.
One of the iconic monarch butterfly sites in Pacific Grove, California, known as “Butterfly Town, USA,” was one of several sites that did not see a single butterfly this year, according to the report.
“These sites normally host thousands of butterflies and their absence this year was heartbreaking for volunteers and visitors flocking to these locales hoping to catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring clusters of monarch butterflies,” noted Sarina Jepsen, Director of Endangered Species at the Xerces Society.
The organization, which specializes in invertebrate conservation, says the decline in population is primary caused by loss of breeding, a decline in their essential migratory habitat in California, climate change and pesticide use.
A court decision in November 2020 ruled that monarch butterflies, and other invertebrates including bumble bees, cannot be offered state or federal protection to keep their habitat from being destroyed or degraded.
“The Xerces Society will continue to pursue protection for the monarch and work with a wide variety of partners to implement science-based conservation actions urgently needed to help the iconic and beloved western monarch butterfly migration,” the website states.