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New Chapter: Ellen Federico, Event Planner to "The Butterfly Lady of Fire Island" and Children's Book Author

Ellen Federico spent her youth on Fire Island, an idyllic summer vacation spot for New Yorkers between the city and the Hamptons. Her family was one of the 500 year-round residents growing up in the 1970s with her father Captain Bob Federico and her mom home caring for eight children. They grew up in a small clapboard cottage where her parents taught them about the sea, island wildlife, and weather signs on the great barrier reef.

After high school, Ellen headed to New York City and became a corporate event planner. Her business grew and she was regularly handling large scale events for up to 5,000 guests––the Bicentennial of NY Stock Exchange, Cirque Du Soleil Opening, 150th Anniversary Pfizer Inc. to name a few. Full disclosure: Ellen worked with me back in the day on a series of activations across the US for Hyatt Resorts and another very important event, my beautiful NYC wedding in 2003!

Fast forward 35 years, Ellen was needed back home to care for her elderly parents, where she also noticed her beloved butterflies were dwindling too. Not one to sit idly by, Ellen studied and learned all she could about protecting this extraordinary insect and became a certified Monarch Butterfly conservationist. She now maintains sustainable habitats on Fire Island.


For her conservation work, Ellen has been featured on NBC Today Show and The New Yorker magazine as "The Butterfly Lady of Fire Island." She offers workshops for children and adults.  Ellen has authored an adorable new children's book Butterfly Island and the Invincible Crew, illustrated by Tracy Dockray. Let's hear more about Ellen's incredible career pivot!

Butterfly Lady of Fire Island

Ellen, what an amazing career transformation.  Tell us about how you made the shift from event planner to butterfly conservationist. 

My favorite childhood experience was the fall migration of Monarch Butterflies that descended over Fire Island in brilliant orange clouds across the sky. The flutters were so large we could reach up and touch their wings. I’d ask my father, “Dad, where are they all flying to?” In 1967 he didn’t know the answer, no one did. Scientists only discovered their ancient migration in 1973. I promised myself, one day I’m going to follow them. And forty-five years later, I did. After a challenging event in 2017 I went to the El Rosario Sanctuary in the Michoacan Mountains in Mexico and stared awestruck under millions of monarchs. I went up the mountain an event planner and came down the mountain knowing I would teach everyone I could about these amazing butterflies.


Wow, please explain briefly how the butterflies live and have prospered now. 

All butterflies live 4 – 6 weeks, they nectar, mate, lay eggs and die. All except the fourth generation Monarchs that arrive here in New York in August. They weigh less than a penny and live up to 9 months so they can migrate 3000 thousand miles from Canada to a destination in Central Mexico where they rest over winter. In March, the resting Monarchs awaken, nectar, mate, and take flight heading north in search of milkweed to lay their eggs on before ending their long-life cycle. These eggs are the first generation who live 4-6 weeks like all other butterflies. It will take 3 more generations of Monarchs to reach Canada and the Northeast by August, when a new migrating fourth generation is born, and the cycle starts all over again. This has been going on for hundreds of years.


When did you start teaching courses?

In 2018, but I planted my first milkweed habitat on Fire Island in 2011 with the local island children. If you plant native milkweed and nectar flowers the Monarch females will come and lay their eggs. It was wonderful, our habitat was thriving until the following year when Super Storm Sandy washed it all away. If it wasn’t for the children who wanted to start over again, I’m not sure I could have started anew.


And that inspired you to write a children's book...what is the storyline? 

Well, it’s inspired by a true story, a group of island children come together to restore washed-away dreams and explore nature's wonders in a kid-sized adventure, finding strength in unity. Children learn about butterfly conservation and recovery efforts following environmental storm losses, replacing despair with hope. Sound familiar? It’s what the kids and I went through after the storm. It’s an uplifting story with beautiful illustrations by Tracy Dockray.


A few years back when the bee population was dwindling many hotels acquired rooftop hives.  Can something similar be done to help the butterflies?

Oh yes, there are many roof-top and patio gardens with pollinator habitats all over the city and outer boroughs. But you must plant milkweed to be successful. It’s the only plant Monarch Moms will lay their eggs on and that their caterpillars will eat. No milkweed, no monarchs.

Butterfly Island and the Invincible Crew

Wow, this would be a fabulous new iteration and could be such a great experience tied into kids programming at luxury hotels.

It certainly would be, especially properties along the migration routes in the U.S. August - October. Our book is also a wonderful corporate gift for clients too. Before I retired from event planning, I produced a banking conference in San Antonio and coordinated a 1000 Monarch butterfly release for adults. It was a huge success.


When we plant milkweed, we touch the sky!


Ellen, thank you for sharing your career transformation, or rather, chrysalis with us!! If you want to learn more, please contact Ellen at:

2 opmerkingen

han gu
han gu
14 jun.

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