Float like the Island Marble

  Life on the island is a bit kooky, laid back, and each day is more unique than the last. From kayaking in the pitch black ocean waters completely surrounded by glowing blue bioluminescence to laying in the prairie fields watching bald eagles glide above you. This place holds a sort of magic that you wont find anywhere else. Living here has taught me so much already. Nature and history combine to create a mysterious storyboard waiting to be told. My first week was an introduction to the park. San Juan National Historical Park is rather small compared to other national parks, but the amount of archaeology and biodiversity that fall into its realm is immensely dense. Piles of shell remains from Native American camps called Shell Middens stack up meters high in some places and are the parks most prized pre-contact archaeological features. In some places the amount of midden was so great that it actually created new shorelines. Once the British and Americans established their occupations in the late 17th to early 18th centuries, territorial rifts began to form between the dueling countries and the Native populations. A pig almost caused another British/American war. The island was divided. In the northwest end was the British encampment while the southeastern end was occupied by the Americans. A British pig escaped and made its way to the American camp and devoured one of the settler’s prized potato garden. The man shot the pig! The British came after the man, but the Americans hid him and they threatened to take everyone prisoner, both nations had to get their militaries involved.  Luckily, the battle ended without blood shed and later both nations occupied the area without hostility. This is just some of the history that belongs to the island. Many of the original military and settler buildings still remain. Because the park is rather small, many of the employee’s take on more than one role. The first few weeks I learned how to help in the restoration project of the prairie and the stabilization of the marble butterfly population. We picked native seeds from the prairie fields and the nursery where they specialized in growing only native plants. We then placed them in bags to dry out for the summer. The butterflies were my favorite part. The marble butterfly is a candidate for the endangered species list. They are only found on this island and their population is down to only 300 individuals as of May 2016. The reason for this is because they lay their eggs on three different plant species. Once the egg is laid the caterpillar feeds off that plant until it’s ready to pupate and take its chrysalis form (a butterfly “cocoon”). The butterflies lay their eggs following the plants life cycle. They depend on them for their entire life, but these plants are also extremely tasty to deer. A growing number in deer populations have led to overgrazing of the butterflies host plants causing a decline to their populations. Also, hiking and growing tourism have aided in the decline. Hikers unaware of the butterflies, walk  through the host plants killing many caterpillars and their chrysalis. In an effort to reduce the foot traffic and deer traffic electric fenced off areas were created. Within these fences park scientists began restoring native plants as well as preserving the host plants. We would go out into the field to do butterfly surveys, which basically meant counting as many marble butterflies as we see in a 200yard span and then record our findings. We also went egg hunting! We would find tiny…and I mean TINY butterfly eggs, take them back to the lab where they would hatch in a safe and controlled manor.  This lab was called the rearing room. Once hatched we cared for the caterpillars through each stage of their life cycle. This requires around the clock care. Every staff member pitched in to help these guys. Once they pupate we set them in another area to mature. Over time they hatch and we release the new butterfly back into the wild. They only have 6 days to mate before they die. It’s a tough life being a butterfly! Egg season is coming to a close. Now we are helping the caterpillars pupate and even trying to document this stage in the wild using GOPROs and a lot of patience. My start here on the island consisted mainly of butterfly work. It has taught me so much about biology and even botany. Recently, I have begun my archaeological projects, but I won’t lie, I miss my butterfly friends.

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