Newcastle honey industry decimated by deadly new parasite putting a third of Australia’s food at risk

honeycomb bees

The varroa mite was detected in Newcastle last week. Source: BigBlueStudio/Adobe.

Newcastle beekeeping enterprise Urban Hum has shut down its operation and will have 90 hives destroyed after a deadly parasite finally hit our shores, putting up to a third of Australia’s food at risk.

Australia was previously the only large-scale honey producer unaffected by the varroa mite, a small burgundy-coloured external pest that can destroy hives by infecting the colony.

However, the varroa mite was detected at the Port of Newcastle on Friday, with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) issued a sweeping emergency order shortly afterwards.

The grim graphic laid out a 10km eradication zone capturing Newcastle, as well as a 25km surveillance zone, and a 50km buffer zone.

The acting chief executive of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, Danny Le Feuvre, said up to 100 hives have already been destroyed near the port as the containment begins.

Among those affected by the mass euthanisation order is Urban Hum.

In the coming weeks, the Department of Primary Industry’s Biosecurity Emergency Response team will take samples from your hive then it will be euthanised, co-founder Anna Scobie posted in Facebook and Instagram posts to her hive community on Monday morning.

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.


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A post shared by Urban Hum (@urbanhum)

Australian bee industry needs help

The NSW DPI warned that the parasite’s incursion could lead to the loss of $70 million a year if left unchecked in Australia.

That could have a devastating effect on one-third of Australian food that relies on honey bee pollination, according to AgriFutures, including apples, cherries, avocados, and pears, as well as almonds and macadamia nuts.

Urban Hum, which was started 10 years ago by Scobie will fellow Novocastrians Kelly Lees, is an enterprise organisation with up to 110 hives dotted all over the city of Newcastle.

The bees from each hive feed on a different menu of native bushland, street trees and suburban gardens, which means each suburb produces a unique flavour of honey, which is then packed into glass jars and sold at local markets.

The pair started Urban Hum in their backyard to protect honeybees as the worldwide threat to bees hit the media”, Scobie said in the posts, but it rapidly expanded into an enterprise.

Our business grew organically from that first hive as we saw Newcastle shared our passion for bees, with 100s of households embracing our beehives and just as many students learning to maintain their own.

Amid this week’s gutwrenching news, Scobie asked her community to bee kind to the biosecurity team when they arrive.

The Biosecurity response team are passionate beekeepers called up from this area doing a hard job. Many will have lost their hives too in this response, she wrote.

When they enter your backyard remember this. Kelly also works as a bee educator at the local agricultural college and was quickly seconded to help mount a response. It has been a hard week.

Scobie said Urban Hum will do one last market in July, but after this, we do not know just yet.

Newcastle will not be able to have hives for several years.

The founder signed off with a message for all hive owners to create a memorial garden across Newcastle by planting for native bees (who are unaffected by the mite).

A honey bee colony is all about the health of the whole colony, not the individual bee,” she wrote.

The bee network across the nation needs our help, it is about the whole Australian honey bee industry, not our individual hives.”


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chris b
chris b
1 month ago

they must ensure that the ‘biosecurity cure’ is not worse than the bite and that the ‘cure’ is not in any way a threat to our native bees. Varroa mite is a pest of honey bees and will NOT affect/hurt native bees. 
The varroa mite is a threat only to Apis honey bees; it breeds only in their hives and will not attack other bee species. Its biology is closely tuned to its host. This makes it very unlikely to switch its host range to Australian native bees with their very different nesting behaviour. The varroa mite has co-existed with many species of native bees for thousands of years in Southern Asia, with no reported cases of the mite using other bees in any manner or form.

Last edited 1 month ago by chris b
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