Bees Potentially Threatened by Gold Mine Project
Will bees get disoriented and stressed from the mine's bright lights and noise?
The choice seems to be gold nuggets or liquid gold, also known as honey. Or can both co-exist in peace without harm?
This is the choice a community is faced with at Blayney, in central-west New South Wales, Australia. The proposal has somewhat divided the community temporarily on several fronts, including what the mine might do to the surface and ground water as well as contamination risks and potential adverse effects on agriculture and property values.
Vicki Lockwood is owner of the bustling Goldfields Honey, which is one of Australia’s largest beekeeping businesses. She has 8,000 hives with as many as 60,000 bees in any one hive. That’s a rough total of nearly half a billion bees!
Vicki has been beekeeping in this area for over twenty years and has kept hives on some state forest property that backs up onto an area that has become controversial recently. Her bees literally live in pristine conditions in the forest. Bees, like humans, need darkness and quiet at night to sleep.
This unrelated 12:03-minute video by ABC Australia is worth watching, it highlights Australia's queen bee breeding program on Rottnest Island, the longest running anywhere in the world.
This area is looking at a proposed gold mine development. The $415 million McPhillamys Gold Project at Blayney would bring the construction of an open-cut mine and tailings dam on farmland. Once operational, it could process over 200,000 ounces of gold every year for the 10-year lifespan of the project.
Vicki and her crew at Goldfields Honey are very concerned about the impact the mine may have on their bees. A great concern is that the bees might fly into the bright light, and along with the noise and dust, millions of bees might get stressed and disoriented. This could cause bees to get lost, and then they would not find their way home to their hives and they would perish.
Mrs. Lockwood is calling for more studies on the effect of mine projects on bee behavior. For instance, would the noise and vibrations emanating from the mine interfere with the queen bees’ mating, which ultimately impacts the survival of the hives. This could very well put their queen bee breeding program at risk. There are huge implications about possible impacts but not much solid research.
Given the severe struggles and difficulties Australian bees have experienced following the droughts, bushfires and floods, special attention should be given to this dilemma to ensure the mining operation will not harm the bees.
So far there is only a small amount of research on the impact of mine developments on bee behavior. New research into the effects of light, pollution and noise on bees is needed.
And then there is the possibility that the bees would fly into the mining area and sting workers, some of whom could suffer an allergic reaction to the stings.
Nadine Chapman is a bee researcher at University of Sydney, and she is one expert who believes these concerns are valid. Honeybees do not fly at night normally, but if there is light pollution in their area they may be encouraged to fly instead of sleep. There are green, blue, and ultraviolet filters on honeybee eyes, and they are highly attracted to LED lights which have a blue spectrum in them.
Dr. Chapman said beekeepers don’t like their bees to be disturbed by a lot of noise. Nighttime is when bees stay in their hives and turn nectar into honey. Lights could confuse them and lure them outside to fly around, where they may get disoriented and exhausted when they should be in the hive resting.
She said there is a report that shows bees don’t move for twenty minutes after hearing a loud noise. There are other potential problems, too. Air pollution created by the mines could mean bees take dust and fine matter back into their hives. Pollution could also impact the ability of bees to forage by making it harder to pick up the scent of flowers.
Regis Resources is the company behind the proposed McPhillamys Gold Project. Special projects manager Tony McPaul says the company is confident it can address concerns raised by local apiarists, having consulted with several, including Vicki Lockwood of Goldfields Honey. The company doesn’t believe the mine operation will directly impact the bees but are uncertain they could convince the beekeepers of that. They propose an area of off-set land for beehives south of Blayney.
This 9:18-minute video by Rahamim Ecology Centre shows local people, including Vicki Lockwood the beekeeper, discussing the potential impact of the gold mine project:
All construction would be done during daylight. There would be no need for artificial lighting. But once operational, the mine would use soft, sensor-operated lights. Also, Mr. McPaul said mining equipment could be ‘sound suppressed’ to reduce noise emitted from the mine.
They are aware that bees can travel a fair distance, and they will work with those living nearby to minimize the number of bees that come onto the mining site.
Some beekeepers in the area told the mining company they are not concerned the mine would impact their business.
Mr. McPaul says the company would consider helping to commission a study into the effect on bees if the project is granted approval. The NSW Independent Planning Commission is expected to decide this year whether the mine will be given a green light.
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