Strategically situated near the major ports of the coastal cities of Australia are a group of beehives designed to detect the presence of varroa mites. These beehives are monitored closely in an attempt to stop the decimation of bee populations.
In Port Kembla, there exists a green space that serves as home to one of Australia’s most important hives. The country calls it a sentinel hive — a colony regularly observed with the purpose of informing authorities if varroa mites have already started infecting a bee ready to take over a healthy swarm.
The Problem with Varroa Mites
According to sentinel hive custodian and beekeeper John Crouchley, these mites often arrive in a container of food. This is why the sentinel hives were placed among the rugged backdrops of Port Kembla.
Australia is the only country in the world that doesn’t suffer from varroa mite infestation. Crouchley said that neighboring countries such as New Guinea and New Zealand already have it. Varroa mites are tiny pests that sit on the neck of the bee, sucking its blood, and eventually will disrupt hive.
The country relies heavily on honeybees with more than 60% of agricultural and horticultural crops produced by way of pollination, and if bees continue to decline in numbers, it would be a catastrophe for the country’s food system.
According to Bee Aware Organization, Australia can save as much as $50 million a year if the country remains free of varroa mites. The parasite has already spread across the globe since the 1960s, and Australia is the only remaining honey-producing country still free of the dreaded insect.
The Work of Sentinel Hives
The sentinel hives are made possible by the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program. The program is run by Plant Health Australia and serves as the country’s primary early warning system against the varroa mite. Currently, the hives are only stationed in New South Wales by the Department of Primary Industries, with the help of Crouchley.
The program placed beehives close to ports, which professionals test regularly to see if pests or exotic bees have somehow made their way in on a ship. It’s tested every six weeks to ensure that Australia remains free of unwanted insects that will bring harm to the environment and several industries.
What You Can Do to Protect Honey Bees and Other Pollinators
Given that insecticides are one of the main causes of bee decline, the first logical step is to switch to organic farming. Organic farmers only rely on the seasons in order for crops to grow, without using harmful chemicals, which in turn helps bees and support biodiversity.
Since beekeeping isn’t a profession for everybody, you can help save your local pollinators by adopting a hive. All you need to do is to reach out to a beekeeper and ask if such program is offered. For an annual fee, you can support the work of beekeepers and in return, you get to receive honey and honey-based programs.
Apiaries are also encouraged to use natural supplementation for bees like BeesVita Plus from makers Healthy Bees LLC, which boosts the resistance of bees to diseases and pesticides. This nutritional supplement will also help diminish the infestation of varroa mites.
Homeowners are also encouraged to plant flowers in their yards or gardens. Planting flowers, especially those kinds that are indigenous to your locality serve as food for bees and other pollinators. These plants require less maintenance and are fairly easy to grow, requiring only a little fertilizer and food. With a bee-friendly garden, honeybees will have a natural habitat and forage, which will benefit not only their kind but humans, as well.