08/17/2012 08:55 EDT | Updated 10/17/2012 05:12 EDT

Monarch butterflies tagged to track migration

A P.E.I. environmental group is helping track monarch butterflies by capturing and tagging the insects before they start their migration south.

Monarchs are a species of concern in Canada. A warm winter has meant a good year for the insects, but the trend in their population is downwards, mostly due to destruction of habitat.

Protection of habitat is complicated by the butterfly's migration – 8,000 kilometers from P.E.I. to Mexico.

"In order to preserve it we have to protect it in Canada, United States and Mexico," said Tracy Brown of the Bedeque Bay Environmental Management Association.

"They go through eastern United States all the way down into South America. If you don't protect their habitat, eventually what's going to happen is we're going to lose them."

BBEMA is tagging the butterflies with stickers so more can be learned about the path they follow on their migration. Brown uses a toothpick to place a small round stick near the base of the butterfly's wing.

"You have to put it on close to the body so it doesn't unbalance the monarch," she said.

"The tag is actually only one per cent of its body weight."

Brown is at Charlottetown's Old Home Week educating passers-by about the project. A group of children gathers to watch her work, and applauds as she takes them outside and releases them.

They flutter off in a cloud of colour. With luck, some of these butterflies will be spotted on their way to Mexico, giving conservationists a better idea what areas need to be protected to help them survive.