Ligurian bees are considered the purest strain of bees alive on the planet.
Struggling Australian beekeepers on Kangaroo Island are desperately trying to keep their Ligurian strain of bees alive after the hives were destroyed in last year's brutal and deadly bushfires. One way they are doing this is by feeding their bees different flowers than what they are used to foraging on, and this will lead to new honey flavors.
Kangaroo Island was particularly hard hit by the fires last year in January. Thousands of bees were killed and over 1,000 hives were destroyed by the blaze. One beekeeper alone lost 500 hives and the bees inside them. In fact, he lost everything, including his home, and now Mick Geursen must rebuild his 10-year old business from the ground up.
This 2:45-minute video by ABC News Australia shows several people mentioned in this blog post being interviewed:
Rebuilding carries a much bigger burden than in other places. On Kangaroo Island, all hives must be built on the island with local tools due to tough biosecurity rules. Challenging at the best of times, it just creates another overwhelming hurdle at a difficult time.
The last pure strain of Ligurian bee in the whole world resides on Kangaroo island. There are no diseases there either, no American foulbrood (AFB). They do everything they can to keep the industry going.
These strong people will make it through, partly thanks to the help of a group of beekeepers from Adelaide on the mainland. They stepped up to help rebuild hives and go from one end of the island to the other every few months helping to rebuild from flat packs. They have already saved the locals thousands of hours of work.
One volunteer, Trisha Blanks, indicated that the emotional support was just as important as the physical support. Thousands of frames have been built and half the bee boxes already made have active bees inside. She says it is exciting.
Another problem with half the island going up in flames was the loss of native island foraging habitat due to the fires, so with the nectar and pollen availability decimated, honey production has dropped by up to 75%.
Honey demand exceeds supply, and sales are way down which causes more economic hardship. Bev Nolan of Clifford's Honey Farm believes it will take a decade for the honey industry to recover although there is considerable bush regrowth. She says flower cycles take years to recover.
Her family has been beekeeping for five decades, and this is the biggest challenge yet. They can’t import bees to help speed up breeding numbers. Relying on what stock was left, beekeepers are hard at work on queen breeding, splitting hives and collecting wild swarms.
Shawn Hinves is a beekeeper as well as president of the Kangaroo Island Beekeepers Association. He has had to improvise due to dwindling honey production, and for now he has turned his business into a "beekeeping experience" for tourists to be able to stay afloat. Tourists tour the hives and learn about the extraction process. It’s always good for people to learn more about and appreciate bees better.
No matter how challenging it all is, others in the industry are determined to ensure that the Ligurian bee survives and that the Kangaroo Island honey industry recovers.
Ligurian bee genetics are very special. The island is a bee sanctuary, where the bees are protected. Many of the locals feel very responsible to make sure things stay this way. They wish to look after the bees and preserve what they’ve got.
As Mr. Hinves said, who knows what the future holds globally with pests and bee diseases. On Kangaroo Island the bees are relatively safe.