A tiny mite could do mighty harm to crops
THE ISSUEThe pest that attacks bees has spread across Oahu.
STOPPING the spread of a mite that feeds on bees
appears almost impossible on Oahu, but the state Department of Agriculture and the public should diligently work to prevent the mites from crossing the ocean to the neighbor islands.
The pest's presence on Oahu already has wiped out the mite-free advantages Hawaii's bee industry had over its infested counterparts on the continent. The Legislature should not delay approval of an emergency appropriation to deal with the mite.
Though the bee industry isn't a major economic force in the islands -- generating about $1 million in honey production and about $4 million in queen bee sales annually -- overall agriculture could be damaged if bees aren't around to pollinate crops. Nationwide, commercial hives are used to pollinate a third of agriculture crops.
Until varroa mites were discovered in a Makiki hive earlier this month, Hawaii had been one of the few places in the world the pests had not infested. As a result, Big Island-bred queen bees and chemical-free organic honey were in demand.
The agriculture department does not know how the mites were introduced here, but with the free flow of goods and few cargo inspections, it is no wonder unwanted insects, plants and animals continually invade the islands. Beekeepers are concerned that the department has not yet issued a quarantine, saying protocol and laws require a survey of possible infestations first. Meanwhile, it has informed shippers of a ban on transporting bee and beekeeping equipment between islands.
Hawaii has yet to experience an alarming phenomenon, called Colony Collapse Disorder, that has wiped out 2.4 million bee colonies across the country. In the 1960s and 1970s, varroa mites decimated bee populations, but the current die-off remains a mystery. Preliminarily study points to a fungi, but another early suspect is a virus that infects varroa mites. Hawaii can only hope the virus doesn't turn out to be the culprit.
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