LIVING close to the world’s busiest ports has Hunter beekeepers on a knife’s edge.
As another colony of the Varroa mite,a parasite that could wipe out the bee industry, was found on bees on a ship off Sydney last week, professional breeders and amateurs consider it inevitable that Australia will loose its highly valuable, Varroa-free status.
New warnings have been issued by Plant Health Australia but people such as professional queen breeder John Banfield, of Redhead, don’t need prompting to check for the mite.
‘‘Varroa will get here. It will be the end of the clean, green industry and we will have to use chemicals,’’ he said.
The infected Asian honey bees on the Kurnell ship were destroyed but Mr Banfield said Australia’s quarantine service ‘‘underperformed’’, only checking about 5 per cent of imported items.
‘‘It is pretty scary for us,’’ Mr Banfield said.
‘‘Australia is the last bastion of healthy bees in the world.’’
It only takes one bee infected with the parasite to wreck what beekeepers estimate is an industry worth between $4 billion and $6 billion, and that’s just for the pollination sector.
There were 2000 honey bees found last week on the ship.
Amateur Beekeeping Association of NSW Hunter Valley Branch secretary Jim Wright said the mite was ‘‘on the door step’’, in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
He said keepers checked for the mite by setting up sugar baits in hives, then shaking the baits to see if the mites fell out.
Autopsies were also carried out on bees to see if they were carrying mites.
Nothing beats vigilance.
Association member Ted Flower regularly checks what are called sentinel hives around Newcastle.
There’s one near the port and others at Mayfield, Mayfield West and Wickham.
Another two were planned for Kooragang, Mr Flower said.
‘‘So far there is no evidence of contamination,’’ Mr Flower said.
Hunter beekeepers stressed the importance of bees for food production.
Mr Wright said bees were fascinating creatures.
Added to the commercial impact of the mite, Mr Wright said using chemicals would cost more and take away the enjoyment the hobby gave so many people.