Around 18 million honeybees have been exterminated in the first wave of containment measures in response to Australia’s first known outbreak of varroa mites.
The discovery of the parasite in honey colonies in Newcastle has resulted in an eradication zone being set up around the city and the immediate lockdown of bees in New South Wales. Varroa mites have been identified on several additional properties since then including at Buladelah, 100 kilometres north of Newcastle.
New South Wales accounts for half of Australia’s bee industry, worth around $70 million annually. Many crops rely on bees for pollination including the almond sector worth $1 billion per year. Hives would usually be transported to pollinate canola, macadamias, blueberries, cherries and avocados, putting an additional strain on many sectors already facing the rising cost of inputs.
Honey producer Trevor Monson said that the industry was on high alert since news of the parasite first broke.
“It doesn’t look good. It appears the mite has been here for some time.”
“I turned 75 a couple of weeks ago and was due to retire but those plans have been disrupted,” he added.
Australia is the last major honey producer to face varroa mite, which has been responsible for a sharp decline in the number of colonies globally, and the associated drop in honey production.
Apiarist Anna Scobie, who has 90 hives facing destruction, said that the Australian industry might have to consider learning to live with the mite.
“We will all just have to start to use the processes that the rest of the world has done. That may mean we can return to beekeeping in this area sooner because everyone else is also living with varroa mite. But if we can eradicate it, we need to try to do that as best we can,” she said.
“Between the drought, fires, floods and now varroa there seems to be a bit of bad luck for beekeepers lately”.
The news comes amid increasing concern among the livestock industry as many South-East Asian countries deal with Foot and Mouth and Lumpy Skin disease. Only last weekend, Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) was detected in Bali, making many nervous about the potential for it to be transported to Australia via tourists.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt announced that biosecurity measures would be stepped up amid the risk of travellers returning from FMD hotspots.
“Following official confirmation from Indonesian authorities yesterday that FMD had spread to Bali, new measures were immediately imposed to protect Australia’s livestock industry from this threat,” he said.
“High-risk materials cannot be brought into the country, including contaminated equipment or clothing, [and] animals or animal products such as meat products and cheese.”
Additional measures also include additional biosecurity detector dogs in Darwin and Cairns airports, additional signage and expanded publicity campaigns.
Biosecurity officers will also board arriving flights from Indonesia.