The Miami Blue butterfly, once a flourishing species in South Florida, is nearly extinct. Their fragile and beautiful blue wings can only be found beating in the most remote out islands these days, but Key West High School students are hoping to change that.

“The students are doing all sorts of projects at our site,” said Rick Harty, president of the Key West Botanical Garden Society, which operates the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden. “They’re helping us create a blue butterfly environment that will support the rare butterflies and draw them here.”

The 14 high schoolers, working alongside 31 Duke University students for class credit, have been identifying each species in the garden — including invasive species — and plot them using global positioning system (GPS) uplinks on their laptops, Harty said.

Travis Hicks, a Key West High School junior, said he’s been enjoying his time doing projects at the garden.

“There’s a lot of wildlife in this part of Stock Island,” said Hicks, who, along with other high school students, is serving an internship at the garden. “I’ve seen chicken snakes, migratory birds, and different kinds of butterflies, including the Miami Blue. There are lots of gorgeous animals here, but at the same time all of this is very fragile. These kinds of environments can be upset with a little push.”

The students serve in various study groups with such names as the Environmental Programs Advisory Committee, Carbon Neutrality Team, Aquifer Education Team and the Blue Butterfly Education Team.

“I’m studying the plants and their medicinal uses,” Hicks said Monday. “I have to take pre-med courses in college, so I am looking at the health aspect of plants. The Madagascar periwinkle, which is in the garden, is commonly used in chemotherapy treatment.”

The community is invited to visit the students and view their work while enjoying sunset, cocktails, beer and wine. The garden, with a nature walk and small community center, calls it the Winter Solstice Science Fair and Cocktail Party. It gets under way today at 4:30 p.m. at 5210 College Road.

Courtesy Key West Citizen