A race against time - Australia’s varroa destructor outbreak

On the latest publicly released figures, at least 34 infestations of the dreaded bee parasite – varroa destructor – have now been confirmed confirmed in Australia.

And the campaign to stamp out the outbreak has become a desperate race against time.

In the few short weeks since June 22nd, when it was first detected in sentinel hives at the Port of Newcastle, varroa has become well-established and spread quite widely.

Just how widely can be seen by the size of the red area in the online map of eradication, surveillance, and notification zones promulgated under NSW government emergency orders (pictured below).

Map of Australia's varroa outbreak

The red areas are the eradication zones setting the boundaries within which, to stop the spread of the mite, all honeybee hives have to be destroyed.

But large numbers of hives also have to be inspected in the adjacent (purple) surveillance zones, and the task overall is presenting a mammoth challenge.

NSW’s Department of Primary Industries, aided by the honey industry and NSW government emergency agencies, has been mobilizing an outbreak response taskforce.

The taskforce is composed of DPI inspectors, beekeeper volunteers and NSW Fires services personnel and some 17 teams, totalling some 95 people, were reportedly in the field on Thursday the 7th July.

Numbers are growing fast, however and up to 30 teams were hoped to be deployed by the week-end.

Even so, the mite has had at least a 2 week head-start and authorities are in a race against time to stop its spread.

Whether that can be done quickly enough is the key question at this stage of the outbreak.

With their plantations set to begin blossoming at the end of this month, Australia’s almond growers need government emergency orders lifted very soon to enable some hundreds of thousands of bee hives to be brought in for pollination.

Without the bees, Australian almond production this year will take a big hit.

Australia’s honey harvesting season, too, is due to begin after the almonds, so effectively, the outbreak response taskforce has only a week or two more to get the situation under control.

After that, the cost of the outbreak will increase critically.

So whilst authorities continue to express confidence that the outbreak will eventually be eradicated, whether that can be done quickly enough is, at the time of writing, still very much an open question.

 

Note: Official web-sites of the NSW Department of Primary Industry (DPI) www.dpi.ndw.gov.au and the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (www.honeybee.org.au) are providing authoritative information on the outbreak.

The NSW Department of Primary Industry’s Facebook biosecurity page has also been providing useful updates, and photos of the action at the Department’s Maitland control centre.

The Amateur Beekeeper Association’s web-site at www.beekeeper.asn.au has also been doing a good job of keeping up to date and keeping beekeepers abreast of developments.


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