Bees eradicated in NSW to stop varroa mite threat

Bees are being killed in one state to prevent a deadly threat that could cost Australia $70m a year. The measure is “so sad”, one beekeeper says.

Bees are being exterminated in NSW to stop the spread of the deadly varroa mite parasite, which could cost Australia $70m each year if it is not stopped.

A Department of Primary Industries (DPI) emergency order has banned the movement of bees throughout the state, but the extra step of eradicating some hives will be taken.

It comes after varroa mites were detected in sentinel beehives near the Port of Newcastle on Wednesday, with an initial 50km radius biosecurity control order issued for the area on Friday.

Hives in the immediate 10km emergency zone are being eradicated, while bees at a property near Trangie in the Central West will also be euthanized due to potential contamination.

A small beekeeping enterprise in the heart of Newcastle called Urban Hum will lose all 90 of its hives because it is in the 10km zone.

“Now the most powerful way to protect the Australian honeybee industry is to say goodbye to our bees. To stop beekeeping in Newcastle,” one of Urban Hum’s owners Anna Scobie wrote.

“This is hard and so sad. To starve the parasite, they will kill the host, our beautiful honeybee hives, and all feral/wild European honeybee colonies will die.”

Urban Hum started more than 10 years ago when Ms. Sobie and Kelly Lees started keeping bees in their backyard and grew into a popular local business among nearby households and students.

Ms. Sobie said while she had honey to sell at next month’s Olive tree market, she did not know what the future would hold after that.

“Newcastle will not be able to have hives for several years,” she said.

“I will sit with my bees and say goodbye. A honeybee colony is all about the health of the whole colony, not the individual bee. The bee network across the nation needs our help. It is about the whole Australian honeybee industry, not our individual hives.”

NSW Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said authorities were taking these “fairly strict” measures because the mites would cost Australia more than $70m annually if they become established.

“If varroa mite settles in the state, it will have severe consequences, so we’re taking every precaution and action needed to contain the parasite and protect the local honey industry and pollination,” he said.

“Australia is the only major honey-producing country free from varroa mite, the most serious pest to honey bees worldwide.

“We’re working with apiary industry bodies and stakeholders to ensure beekeepers are well informed and can continue to help us with this critical response.”

Containment and control activities will occur on Monday near Trangie, where the bees will be euthanized and their hives destroyed.

Mr. Saunders said while no varroa mites had been found at the property, a precautionary approach was being taken due to the damage the parasites could cause.

“There is no actual detection of mites in those particular hives, but given they were from the same owner as to where there has been a detection in the Newcastle area, the decision’s been made to very quickly lock them down and take no risks,” he said.

“It’s a message to all beekeepers, both hobby and professionally, that we need them to help monitor the situation and to make sure we don’t see varroa mite spread across the state.”

The property near Trangie was deemed a “dangerous contact premise” when it was discovered that a load of bees near the original detection site had been moved there.

The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council said while no mites had been detected, the risk of parasites being detected remains “extremely high”.

A 50km biosecurity zone is still in place around the Port of Newcastle and beekeepers in that area must notify the DPI of the locations of their hives.

A 25km surveillance zone is also still active around the site as well as the 10km emergency zone.

Varroa mite is the most serious pest of honeybees worldwide. It weakens and kills colonies while transmitting viruses.

They are tiny reddish-brown parasites that are easily identifiable to the naked eye.

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