“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” – Albert Einstein.
The bee crisis has been a popularly discussed environmental issue for some time now, yet not much is being done to address it. Honeybees are widely considered to be bio-indicators of environmental pollution, and with their rapid disappearance in the past century, scientists and apiculturists (beekeepers) are scrambling for answers.
Marla Spivak, an Apiculture professor from University of Minnesota, has discovered that there has been a 300% worldwide increase in the crop production requiring bee pollination over the last 50 years. Bee populations, however, have more than halved since World War 2.
Scientists have put forward a number of possible causes and contributing factors for this mass bee disappearance. One of the most widely discussed is a condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder, CCD, in which a high proportion of the worker bees from a colony disappear – abandoning their food source, nurse bees and their queen. Though the exact cause of CCD is unknown, however, there are many theories attempting to explain it. One popular theory suggests that the pesticides being used on crops pollinated by bees is contributing to CCD. One would think a simple solution is to limit the use of pesticides, or to develop pesticides that wouldn’t affect bees. However, there is a deadly chink in the chain.
In America, the Environmental Protection Agency does not coordinate research into bee-harming pesticides; rather, the pesticides manufacturers do the research. The agency deciding whether or not pesticides are safe for our environment is therefore relying on data from the very companies that would benefit most from their use.
Luckily in Australia, our honeybee population is a lot healthier. If, however, something negative were to happen it could have a significant effect on our economy. Australia is a major agricultural exporter and its economic growth is significantly affected by the agricultural sector. In these circumstances, the fact that 65% of Australia’s agriculture is dependent on honeybee pollination should turn a few heads.
The Varroa mite is another likely cause of Colony Collapse Disorder and is widely considered to be nature’s single greatest threat to the world’s apiculture. These mites have been a major issue in America, and Australia has been relatively unaffected, until very recently. A potential biosecurity crisis has unfolded in Townsville upon the discovery of the mites in an Asian honey beehive. In response, the transport of beehives, beekeeping equipment and bee products have been restricted by Biosecurity Queensland. The Australian Department of Agriculture has since stated, “If the Varroa mite were to become established in Australia, our healthy population of feral honey bees, and the pollination services they provide, could be reduced by 90-100 per cent.”
While bees are becoming more and more vulnerable, there are things we can do to support their continued survival. You don’t have to be a beekeeper, or even know anything about them. Some things we can do include:
· Plant ‘bee-friendly’ flowers in your garden e.g. lilacs, sunflowers and lavender
· Avoid using chemicals and pesticides to treat your garden and lawn
· Buy organic local food from farmers’ markets
· To support Australia’s apiculture industry, buy local raw honey such as Canberra Urban Honey, sold at a number of locations around Canberra including the Food Co-op and Choku Bai Jo.
These are simple things that can have a meaningful impact on the future of Australian bees.
1 in 3 mouthfuls of food is bee pollinated. With a third of our food source at risk, it is clear that this issue we can no longer ignore.