Varroa Incursion: A Look At Your Comments

Our aim in providing ongoing information and commentary with respect to the varroa incursion in Newcastle is to create greater awareness of the nature and magnitude of this threat.

Bens Bees Varroa

As previously stated, our aim in providing ongoing information and commentary with respect to the varroa incursion in Newcastle is to create greater awareness of the nature and magnitude of this threat and to encourage everyone to do everything possible to assist. Especially given that we are likely to have a very short window in which to get this under control.

Many people have reached out to express that they have found our commentary
useful and informative – thanks to all of you for your feedback. Opinions will naturally differ, no-one has all the answers, and a healthy debate is positive.

However, if you do wish to comment on another person’s post, please remember not to make it personal! Speaking of your comments, we thought it would be a good idea to address some of the specific issues you have raised.

A few of you have alluded to a theory that varroa was originally brought into the country illegally.

This was put to the NSW Acting Chief Plant Protection Officer, Dr Chris Anderson, by presenter Kim Honan in a recent interview for the ABC’s NSW Country Hour.

Dr Anderson did rule out any avenue of importation but stated that he was unaware of any specific investigation of this nature. He also pointed out that the
Covid pandemic had resulted in a backlog of container ships around ports and inferred that this was a credible source of the incursion.

However, Newcastle local Stephen Dawes points out in his comments here that although there are lots of coal boats around Newcastle, it is not a container port like Botany. And he’s right; Newcastle may be the world’s busiest coal port,
shipping around 160 million tonnes of coal per year, but plans to develop a container terminal have been beset by frustrating delays.

Along with other readers, Stephen is also troubled about the paucity of sentinel hives, and the level of inspection for the purposes of biosecurity. Shelley Collins commented on her concern that sentinel hives in Newcastle weren’t checked for 10 weeks and that this point typically seems to be brushed over in the media.

Speaking to Damon Cronshaw of the Newcastle Herald, prominent Newcastle beekeeper Neil Livingstone said he conducted regular checks on the six sentinel hives for a decade acting as a volunteer with the DPI.

“It used to be six-weekly checks 10 years ago. Then they brought it to monthly. I kept saying we should be doing it every two to three weeks, keeping a much closer eye on it. I kept on saying, gee a month’s a long time. A lot can happen in a month.’

Mr Livingstone said he was no longer checking the hives because of Covid, “The DPI ruled that once Covid hit, volunteers had to get out of the picture.”

Meanwhile, the DPI stated that sentinel hives were checked ‘approximately every six to eight weeks’, and confirmed that in the lead-up to the detection of varroa on June 22, the hives were inspected in January, February, April and May. So, in theory, the 10-week gap reported by NBN NEWS online on June 30 could have occurred between February and April.

Calling for greater transparency, the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Regional NSW, Mick Veitch, stated that, “Timing is critical when it comes to varroa mite incursions and our broader biosecurity response.”

Our final comment for discussion (in this instalment!) comes from Rochelle Polley, who wrote, ‘This incursion has been here for much longer than they are telling us. Why would they be asking people who bought bees from the Newcastle area 12 months ago to check their hives otherwise?’

As part of their update on Saturday, June 2, the NSW DPI requested that anyone who had acquired honey bees from within the 50-kilometre emergency zone around Newcastle in the past 12 months report this occurrence. It was hoped that community reporting would ‘help us free up the movement of honey bees in the rest of NSW, especially around almond pollination’.

Dr Chris Anderson acknowledged on the Country Hour interview that a large
number of people were reporting that they had acquired bees over the past year but did not elaborate further as to the motives behind reporting. Does the DPI believe that varroa mites have been around Newcastle for much longer than a couple of weeks, and if so, what has led them to this conclusion?

Assuming that the information is solely for the purpose of freeing up healthy bees for almond pollination, given that over a 12-month period, any individual colony may swarm, be divided, sold, relocated (perhaps multiple times) and even abscond, it would seem to be an onerous task to map out with any reliability the area covered by bees originating from Newcastle.

In an upcoming post, we will examine the possible impacts on native bees, and the merits and effects of using fipronil baits. Keep the comments coming if you would like to add anything or have additional information to share!

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