Varroa mite detection at Port of Newcastle threatens Australia’s bee industry

Varroa mite has been detected in biosecurity surveillance hives at the Port of Newcastle, threatening the bee industry.

Australia has been the only continent to remain free of the parasite, with previous detections in Queensland and Victoria eradicated.

The varroa destructorcommonly called varroa mite, spreads viruses that cripple bees’ ability to fly, gather food, or emerge from their cell to be born.

It also significantly reduces their ability to pollinate crops.

Varroa mites on honey bee pupae.
Hived bees in the US dropped by about 30 per cent and native bee populations in NZ by 90 per cent when varroa mite arrived there.(Supplied: Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry)

NSW Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said an emergency biosecurity zone was now in place around the Newcastle port and the contaminated hives have been contained.

Beekeepers within 50 kilometers of the port are being told not to move or tamper with their hives.

“It is a really concerning situation. We’re now calling on beekeepers right across the state to help safeguard their industry,” Mr Saunders said.

Mr Saunders said a varroa mite outbreak could cost the agricultural industry $70 million a year in losses.

One in three mouthfuls of food benefit from honey bee pollination, with some crops like almonds, blueberries, avocados, and apples completely dependent on pollination.

A queen bee among hundreds of bees on a hive frame.
NSW DPI have confirmed varroa mite has been detected at the Port of Newcastle. (ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

It has been reported that hived bees in the US dropped by about 30 per cent when it was found there, and native bee populations dropped by 90 per cent when it arrived in New Zealand.

Australia has a National Bee Pest Surveillance Program which includes an early warning system to detect new incursions of exotic bee pests.

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