STAR-BULLETIN / 2007
The arrival of the varroa mite in Hawaii threatens the honeybee industry. Shown are bees owned by Michael Kliks, owner of Manoa Honey Co.
Alien mite threatens Big Isle bees
A state team tries to contain a pest that has killed Oahu honeybees
Members of a state rapid response team from Oahu arrived in Hilo yesterday to try to contain a bee mite parasite that poses a threat to the honeybee industry and agriculture in the islands.
Four of the parasites were trapped in Hilo last week. It's the first detection of the reddish-brown, crab-looking varroa mites outside of Oahu.
The rapid response team will destroy all feral beehives within a 5-mile radius of Hilo Bay.
The plan is to stop the spread of the mites if they have not grown into an infestation yet. But the discovery of the mites on the island - one of the largest producers of organic honey in the U.S. and the largest exporter of queen bees in the islands - is worrying beekeepers.
Honeybees are also needed to pollinate fruit trees, vegetables and crops.
"It's obviously a disaster, to say the least," said Garnett Puett, owner of Captain Cook Honey Co. "This is probably the last place on the earth that has been clean of this (mite)."
Puett estimates there are 14,000 beehives on the island compared with the 400 or so on Oahu.
Michael Kliks, owner of Manoa Honey Co., said he lost about two-thirds of his bee colonies about the time the varroa mite was found on Oahu in April 2007.
State employees are setting more swarm traps and sampling bee hives in Hilo to find out if the mites were a new infestation or part of an established infestation on the island, said Lyle Wong, administrator of the state's plant industry division.
Agriculture Department staff will meet with beekeepers on the island to hand out sticky traps with miticides for their hives to kill the mites.
Varroa mites, honeybee pests that occur almost worldwide, feed on the blood of honeybees, weakening the adults and deforming the young until the hive collapses.
Honeybees are a $4 million commercial industry in Hawaii, including honey and queen bee production.
Since varroa mites were first found on Oahu, the state has set swarm traps around state ports to detect mites and killed bees around Honolulu Airport and Honolulu Harbor to prevent the mites from hitchhiking to other islands, an Agriculture Department news release said.
Kliks, president of the Hawaii Beekeepers Association, said the state should have killed all the bees on Oahu to rid the islands of the pest.
"I was just terribly distressed and angry that the state Department of Agriculture didn't take our advice," he said. "If nothing else, that will buy you time. This is an irreversible process. Now we'll have varroa mites here forever."
Administrator Wong defended the state's efforts, saying there is no pesticide to legally kill all the bees.
"We've done the best we could," with the regulatory authority available, he said.
The state is asking residents in the Hilo Bay area to report any backyard and feral beehives to the state's toll-free pest hot line at 643-PEST.