The threat to Australia’s honey bees has expanded after a deadly parasite was discovered at more NSW properties.
Bees are being exterminated in NSW to stop the spread of the varroa mite parasite, which could cost Australia $70m each year if it is not stopped.
On Tuesday, authorities revealed there were now seven infested properties discovered through contract tracing.
A Department of Primary Industries (DPI) emergency order has banned the movement of bees throughout the state, with some hives to be eradicated.
And on Tuesday it was revealed another biosecurity zone would be set up after an infested premises was found at Bulahdelah on the Mid North Coast, outside the existing zones.
“This means a new 10km eradication zone, 25km for surveillance and an extended 50km biosecurity zone have been implemented, to rapidly shut down that new incursion and stop further spread,” Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said.
“Critically, this case is directly linked to a previously identified property, which shows the prompt and efficient response by the Department of Primary Industries is working well.”
The other two new cases identified on Tuesday were at Newcastle and at Seaham.
The varroa mites were first detected in sentinel beehives near the Port of Newcastle last Wednesday, with an initial 50km radius biosecurity control order issued for the area on Friday.
Hives in the immediate 10km emergency zone were being eradicated, while bees at a property near Trangie in the Central West were also to be euthanised due to potential contamination.
Mr Saunders said the expansion of the biosecurity zones was not cause for alarm and showed the surveillance system was doing its job to stay on top of the parasite.
“I would like to encourage all beekeepers, both commercial and recreational, within the new or original impacted areas to please come forward for the good of the industry,” he said.
“We know the devastating impacts varroa mite will have on our honey supplies and pollination across the state, if this threat is not stopped.
“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.”
The DPI was working closely with industry and would brief it on what the eradication process would look like, Mr Saunders said, with the next steps finalised in coming days.
A small beekeeping enterprise in the heart of Newcastle called Urban Hum would 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.”
Mr 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.”
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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