Tacoma entrepreneur supports challenge to develop butterfly tracking system

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Millions of monarch butterflies migrate from southern Canada to central Mexico each fall. Photo by Ernest Williams

Eli Moreno, a Tacoma-based entrepreneur known for founding co-working spaces Surge Tacoma and The Union Club, is now putting energy toward one of the world’s greatest wonders: the annual fall migration of millions of monarch butterflies from southern Canada to central Mexico.

Moreno, in partnership with the Monarch Butterfly Fund, is offering up a $50,000 prize to the inventive team or individual that successfully creates an innovative tagging and tracking system to monitor the monarch butterflies as they migrate southward, a distance of approximately 3,000 miles over several months.

Scientists and environmentalists currently study the monarch’s migratory patterns utilizing a rudimentary system: paper tags attached to the hindwing and later studied by ground-based scientists in central Mexico on monarchs – many of them dead.

“We have people down in Mexico that go around and collect tags from those butterflies,” Moreno said. “So, all we know is that a very small percentage of them make it to Mexico and they died there. With a more sophisticated system, we can pinpoint at least once a day where that butterfly is at.”

In addition to an innovative tracking system empowering scientists to pinpoint the butterfly’s day-to-day migratory pattern, scientists would also be able to study and document the day-to-day environmental conditions and how those conditions affect the migratory pattern. Environmental conditions include temperature, cloud cover, heat, humidity, wind velocity and wind direction.

Another detriment to the migratory pattern is the reduction of the food supply, which has reduced the number of monarchs traveling each fall.

“We don’t see that many butterflies migrating south as they used to,” Moreno said. “(MBF) also does a reforestation program, and we have noticed that the food the butterfly needs to survive has been cut down here in the U.S.

“Scientists right now guess what routes (the butterflies) take, but if we (knew) a precise flight then we (could) plan for more food for the butterflies.”

Moreno became interested in the plight of the monarch butterfly and the preservation work of the Monarch Butterfly Fund 15 years ago when he and his family took a trip to visit the monarch butterfly’s over-winter area in central Mexico. The area happens to be Moreno’s birthplace, the state of Michoacán.

“They happen to go very close to where I was born,” he said.

During their visit, Moreno and his family saw millions of butterflies flying around.

“Let me tell you, nothing can prepare you for that experience,” he said. “It is an amazing sight and a true natural wonder. It felt like we were on sacred ground. So I decided to join (MBF) to preserve the butterfly migration, for my kids and for the many generations into the future that will experience the awe, just as we did.”

Teams or individuals submitting their project proposals must demonstrate several requirements in the system. The unit must be able to transmit the location and the time print of the butterfly anywhere along the migration each day; weight of a unit cannot exceed 75 milligrams; unit must be able to maintain power for the duration of the butterfly’s trip; unit must able to sustain changing weather conditions from high wind patterns to very cold and very hot temperatures; each unit must cost under $5 to develop; units must be made of non-toxic materials; and units must have the capability to be reused.

Moreno, an MBF board member, and his wife, Amber, will be contributing the initial $25,000 of the $50,000 cash prize. The remaining $25,000 to go toward team stipends will be raised through a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding campaign. The $50,000 award will be for the development phase. The crowdfunding campaign will produce the remaining $100,000 needed to support the manufacturing of the unit and the tracking app.

Funds will be raised via donors interested in preserving the migration of the monarch butterfly. Prizes to donors will be associated with how much they give ranging from $25 to $50 and beyond.

“(Through the crowdfunding) we’re trying to raise awareness of the monarch butterfly,” Moreno said.

Project proposals are due April 1, 2018 and can be submitted to theMBFC@yahoo.com. For more information about MBF, visit monarchconservation.org.

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