States on the east coast of Australia have taken biosecurity measures in an effort to control a NSW outbreak of Varroa destructor from spreading into their honey industries.
Both Victoria and Queensland have issued control orders restricting the movement of bees, bee hives and bee products, including honey, into the states, with immediate effect.
The varroa mite is a parasite which has the potential to destroy bee colonies and devastate the honey industry. It is previously unknown in Australia, but has become endemic on other continents after being moved from its native Asian home by the transport of European honeybees in the 1940s.
CSIRO senior research scientist on honeybee pathogens Dr John Roberts said while the varroa mite had been intercepted at Australia's borders previously, this was the first incursion into the country.
Local beekeepers say the discovery of the parasitical pest varroa mite in NSW was not an unexpected event, and the industry must prepare for its eventual arrival.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries says varroa mites (V. jacobsoni and V. destructor) are the most serious pest of honey bees worldwide. Varroa destructor were found in biosecurity surveillance hives and a local commercial hive at the Port of Newcastle on June 24.
The mites are tiny reddish brown external parasites of honey bees, native to Asia, which eat the body fat of larvae and adults. Left untreated, an infestation of varroa will weaken and eventually destroy bee colonies, and potentially introduce other viruses which are not native to Australia, such as deformed wing virus.
Millbrook beekeeper Millie Enbom-Goad of Enbom Honeys says the incursion of varroa was sadly inevitable, and comes in a difficult season of honey gathering.
"It's something we've been expecting," she says.
"We're the last continent on Earth that doesn't have it. Everywhere else is operating with varroa, so for us it was a matter of time. We've been planning for it as an industry - as much as we can do - before we have it. All we can do is wait and see, and offer help if we can in whatever way in terms of the current incursion, and then go from there in terms of the next season and what it brings.
"I think we all feel for the people of Newcastle, the beekeepers."
Hives in a 10km radius surrounding the area of the varroa discovery will be destroyed, with some local Hunter Valley apiarists saying the eradication zone should be extended to 50km.
Do apiarists feel Australia's quarantine, biosecurity and border controls are strong enough, given that in 2015 the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) found Australia's Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment was incapable of effectively managing biosecurity risks?
"I can't speak for all apiarists," Ms Enbom-Goad says.
"We're a long way from the coast, we don't have that experience. I'm part of training the Victorian biosecurity team when it first came out. In terms of our state, we have lots of people doing training for what happens whenever there is a real varroa incursion in Victoria.
"The hives they found varroa in were surveillance hives, so they're guarding against incursion; we do have an early warning sign if there's something coming in.
"It's not something we could keep out forever. A lot of people are comparing it to COVID; I suppose it was a matter of time. Maybe someone made a mistake at the start, or maybe they didn't; maybe it's just life. And we just have to deal with it."
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