Last updated on September 25th, 2023 at 11:05 am
The varroa mite, a deadly bee parasite, has been a significant concern for beekeepers worldwide. Australia, once the last continent free from this parasitic mite, has recently faced the challenge of managing its spread. Despite significant efforts and resources, the country has decided to transition from eradication to management. Here’s a deep dive into the reasons behind this decision and its implications for the beekeeping industry.
The Varroa Mite Invasion
The varroa mite was first detected near Newcastle, New South Wales, in June 2022. Since its detection, more than 44,000 hives have been euthanized in an attempt to halt its spread. Despite a combined effort exceeding $230 million over the past 15 months, scientific data and advice have suggested that eradication is no longer feasible.
Why is the Varroa Mite a Concern?
- The mite feeds and reproduces on bee larvae and pupae, causing malformation and weakening of honey bees.
- It transmits numerous viruses, further endangering bee populations.
- Over 260 outbreaks have been identified in regions such as Newcastle, the NSW north coast near Coffs Harbour, and near the Victorian border.
The Decision to Transition
The National Management Group, responsible for managing the spread of varroa mites across Australia, made a unanimous decision to transition from eradication to management. This decision was influenced by:
- Non-compliance by some beekeepers.
- A recent spike in new detections over a broader area.
- The realization that eradication was becoming a non-viable option.
The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) and its 10 membership groups initially had divided opinions on the eradication approach. However, with the increasing challenges, including the significant number of hives caught in red biosecurity eradication zones, the industry has leaned towards a management approach.
Key Insights from the Industry:
- The honey bee industry is keen to provide clear direction to beekeepers.
- The industry is advocating for a balanced management plan.
- There’s a push for a recovery package to be integrated into the transition plan.
The Way Forward
The transition to management will involve:
- An immediate stand-down of mandatory eradication.
- Establishment of programs to manage the movement and spread of varroa.
- Conversion of red eradication zones into management zones.
- Voluntary euthanasia options for beekeepers in red zones with compensation eligibility.
- Availability of miticide strips to beekeepers in management zones to kill the mite without harming bees.
- Continued alcohol washes every 16 weeks and reporting of results by beekeepers.
- Beekeepers will need to adapt and learn to live with the varroa mite.
- There will be a focus on building resilience in the industry and supporting pollination services.
- Monitoring will be crucial to control the spread of the mite.
The plight of bees is a global concern, and the varroa mite poses a significant threat to their survival. While eradication would have been the ideal outcome, the practical challenges have necessitated a shift in strategy. As we transition to management, it’s essential to support and educate beekeepers, ensuring the continued health and survival of bee populations. After all, bees play a crucial role in our ecosystem, and initiatives like Revive a Bee are a testament to the importance of their preservation.