Millstone elementary students promote importance of pollinators

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MILLSTONE – Concerned that the number of pollinators are declining in their hometown, elementary school pupils in Millstone Township are seeking to promote the importance of pollinator survival to the community.

Known as the “Protectors of Perishing Pollinators,” the Millstone Township Elementary School pupils said they are raising awareness about the decline of native pollinators which include solitary bees such as blue orchard mason bees, as well as hummingbirds and butterflies.

The primary causes for the pollinators’ decline are habitat loss and the use of insecticides that contain a chemical called neonicotinoids (neonics).

The team is comprised of Christopher DellaRosa, Brendan DeRose, Mahi Desai, Layla Greenleaf, Presley Greenleaf, Lorenzo Muñoz, Alexey Nekrasov and Rebecca Swartz.

The “Protectors of Perishing Pollinators” are one of the school’s two community problem solving teams. Beth Topinka, Jennifer Modula and Jo-Ann Trifiro serve as advisers.

In March, the “Protectors of Perishing Pollinators” won the Junior Division at the New Jersey Future Problem Solving State Bowl and have been invited to present their work at the Future Problem Solving 2019 International Conference in Amherst, Mass., from June 5-9.

To help finance the students’ trip to Massachusetts, an online fundraiser seeking $1,500 has been established at www.gofundme.com/millstone-elementary-community-problem-solvers

“The ‘Protectors of Perishing Pollinators’ are promoting the importance of supporting pollinators by encouraging residents to provide habitats for nesting and food, and to avoid using a specific class of chemicals, neonicotinoids,” Topinka said.

“The team members presented their work at the Monmouth County School Garden Conference on April 5, educating teachers and government officials about how to take action to support pollinators.

“The team will be teaching children how to support pollinators at Monmouth County’s ‘Bugs, Birds and Beyond’ festival in August,” she said. “The team will also be presenting at the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education’s Autumn Outdoor Conference at the end of September.

“I am especially proud of how the team has reached out to local experts for collaboration. Building relationships with the Millstone Community Garden and local beekeepers is rewarding for everyone involved and teaches the team the value of following through on projects. We are excited to learn together what works, and what doesn’t, to help support pollinators, from bees to birds,” Topinka said.

On May 13, the pupils appeared before the Millstone Township Environmental Commission to share information about their project. The children spoke about how habitat loss results in the hives and nests of pollinators being destroyed. According to the pupils, solitary bees live in tunnels, dead trees and holes in the ground, which they also lose to development.

To provide new homes for solitary bees, the pupils created “bee hotels.” The pupils also provided instructions for creating “bug mugs,” which they said give solitary bees a special home for nesting, along with instructions for creating hummingbird and butterfly feeders.

Neonics, according to the students, cause pollen to die. Exposure to neonics also results in social insects losing their sense of direction, and if they return to their hive, the entire hive becomes infected and dies. Furthermore, insects become addicted to neonics and if exposed, will only attempt to pollinate the flowers that contain the chemical.

“We need your help to get people to stop using neonics,” the pupils said. “These chemicals are a leading cause of the massive decline of pollinator populations. They seriously harm other species fundamental to healthy, natural ecosystems and can be toxic to birds and many other animals, including deer.”

The pupils also said the chemical appears in food that is consumed by humans and in water systems. The students are advising residents not to purchase insecticides that contain acetamiprid, clothianidin, diontefuran, imidacloprid, nitenpyram and thiamethoxam.