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The Bay Area Butterfly Festival Is Happening This Weekend in Vallejo

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A monarch butterfly nectaring on swamp milkweed. (Stephanie McKnight/Xerces Society)

When Vilma Aquino first moved to Mare Island back in 2007, she would see hundreds of butterflies as she drove along the main drag of Vallejo’s peninsula.

“I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” she said, recalling the beautiful black and orange hues of the winged insect, fluttering against the backdrop of the San Francisco Bay.

Nowadays, when she goes over to the overwintering grounds of the monarch butterflies near Saint Peter’s Chapel, her experience is much different. Recently, she was there, and when she looked up, “I could see twelve,” she said.

The decline of monarch butterflies and other pollinators in this area is an urgent problem, she said, because they’re important for pollinating all kinds of different wildflowers and other plants like blueberries, figs, and more.

Aquino is the founding member of Vallejo People’s Garden, a nonprofit, volunteer-run community organization that focuses on educating the community about organic gardening and ways people can steward the land to help pollinators and the health of the community.


She helped organize the Bay Area Butterfly Festival on Mare Island, happening on May 19. The event aims to bring thousands of people together to enjoy a day learning about the importance of pollinators and sustainability while enjoying food, live music, and a beautiful view of the Carquinez Strait from the boardwalk on Mare Island.

Organizers said it’s the first of its kind for the region.

Vallejo is a major migration path for the western monarch butterfly and used to be a place where thousands of monarchs overwinter. Across California, habitat loss, use of pesticides, disease, and a changing climate have contributed to the decline in their population. Monarch populations in California are 30% down from last year and are a tiny fraction of what they were a few decades ago, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

“We have a historic overwintering site in Vallejo,” said Annina Puccio, executive director of the Monarch Milkweed Project, a nonprofit organization focused on education around pollinators, especially monarch butterflies. The group is helping organize the festival/

“The problem is with the decimation of the monarch population; we have not seen the amount of monarchs that we used to see,” she said. “We’re running out of time, and we need to save [our pollinators]. It’s so important to our food sources.”

“There’s a whole diversity of pollinators out there that most people don’t realize that they are pollinators and how important they are to the environment,” Puccio said.

At this family-friendly festival, there will be more than a hundred vendors and exhibitors sharing the importance of butterflies like monarchs and ways people can help with the population decline of these pollinators.

There will be kid-friendly activities like arts and crafts and educational games, local businesses selling sustainable art and ware, and food trucks offering a variety of cuisines.

The proceeds from the event will go back to educating the community, Aquino added. “For the Vallejo People’s Garden, it would be hyperlocal, where we can make a change in our own backyard to teach our community in helping bring back the population of the monarchs that overwinter here on Mare Island,” Aquino said.

“Our goal is when people walk away from [the festival], they’re going to know so much more about our pollinators, and they’re going to know what they can do to make a difference,” Puccio said.

The Bay Area Butterfly Festival is on Sunday, May 19, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 860 Nimitz Ave., Vallejo.

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