Varroa mite a threat to NSW bees, more than 600 hives destroyed

“The best path forward is to report the locations of potentially impacted hives to aid our response, so we have all the information we need to deal with this as swiftly as possible.”

Newcastle beekeeper Edina Tot started beekeeping six years ago so her family could consume their own honey. She said that, in the years since, the bees had given her so much more.

“It’s kind of like having a dog; they are part of your family,” she said. “Getting to know the bees more, I realised how much they can teach us about life – about unity, how they function together and how they make me more in touch with my senses. When you do beekeeping, you have to be in the moment; there is no multitasking or thinking about tomorrow’s chores.”

Tot has two hives in the eradication zone which are yet to be destroyed; the rest lie within the 50-kilometre surveillance zone. She said the mites’ spread in Australia was inevitable, but it doesn’t make the destruction of her hives any easier to take.

She is hoping to find out if there are any options other than destruction. If worse comes to worst, Tot said she would be devastated.

“I will definitely have my sit down and cry,” she said. “I will be grieving and saying goodbye to my bees. Sometimes we know we have to take one for the team, but it will be hard.”

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CSIRO senior research scientist on honeybee pathogens Dr John Roberts said the varroa mite was the most destructive of the different mite species that impacted bees. He said that, while the varroa mite had been intercepted at Australia’s borders before, this was the first time there had been an incursion.

“The reality is that we know we did not pick it up on first arrival – it has been here for a little while now. [The question is] can we contain it and eradicate it? And we are working to understand that,” he said.

Roberts said there was a possibility that, if the varroa mite was not eradicated, there could be flow-on impacts for the agriculture industry, which relies on European honeybees for crop pollination, particularly for products such as almonds or stone fruits. He added it could also deter hobby beekeepers, who would face even greater challenges in trying to maintain healthy colonies.

While the varroa mite can spread across the country, there are ongoing restrictions on bee movements between the east coast and Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

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Chairman of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council Stephen Targett said if efforts to eradicate the varroa mite failed, the industry would need to change its management practices and increase costs associated with labour and monitoring.

“Everywhere the varroa mite has landed in the world, outside its natural range, feral hives have been decimated,” he said.

In New Zealand, feral honeybee populations plummeted to about 10 per cent of what they were within four years of the mites arriving.

Targett remains confident authorities would be able to contain and eradicate the mite, but that there might be a dip in hives as beekeepers learnt to deal with the mite.

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