Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW

Sacred Honey Bee Evening video clip, CLICK ON THE PHOTO TO VIEW
Click on this photo for a video of "Evening in Honor of the Sacred Honey Bee". Photo by Daniel Bahmani

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Investigation aims to keep bees on Maui flying strong

July 20, 2011
By CHRIS HAMILTON - Staff Writer ( , The Maui News

WAILUKU - For the past several years, America's honeybees have been disappearing in record numbers - but for reasons not yet understood completely by scientists, Maui and Kauai's bees have been spared.

Today, Danielle Downey, apiculture specialist for the state Department of Agriculture, will travel to Maui to investigate why. She will meet with the island's dozen or so beekeepers, or apiarists, to conduct a thorough survey and inspection of Maui's bees and their colonies or hives.

The official term for the destructive phenomenon is called Colony Collapse Disorder. It's particularly frightening for Hawaii's agriculture industry and economy.

Not only is the state's honey considered some of the finest on Earth (and typically costs $35 a pound, one of the highest prices on the honey market), but bees pollinate all kinds of plants, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in a statement.

Downey said that, before her visit today, beekeepers should be on the lookout for non-native mites and beetles in the colonies. They are proved to carry diseases that can nearly kill off a hive or entire colony.

However, so far, the bugs have not been spotted on Maui or Kauai. And Downey and others in the tight-knit bee community said they absolutely want to see the spread of the invasive species stop before they arrive here.

"This is something we have to suss out together," said Maui beekeeper Jonathan Starr, who has 35 colonies with about 1 million bees on his Kaupo property. "I really hope her skills and inspections turn out not to be a horrible news story for us."

Some of the telltale diseases, and the invasive insects that carry them, were first spotted on Oahu and the Big Island in 2007, Abercrombie said.

How long Maui and Kauai can avoid the devastation could be just a matter of time; or people could rally together and work to stop the problem before it arrives; or beekeepers could destroy infected hives themselves on sight, so the bugs and their diseases don't spread.

A public meeting with Downey is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the University of Hawaii Maui College's Pilina Building Multipurpose Room, Starr said. In the meantime, beekeepers are welcome to contact Downey via email at, She also works for the university, which also is assisting beekeepers.

According to a recent study by the University of Illinois and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January, American bumblebee populations are seeing declines in some species by as much as 96 percent in recent years. And some bee species could be on the verge of extinction.

However, studies have not determined if any particular reason is to blame for the loss of bees, which would be detrimental to the country's agriculture industry because bees pollinate so many plants, entomologists have said.

Pesticides, destructive beetles and mites, diseases and climate change have all been either blamed individually or in combination for the demise of bees, the studies said.

Parasitic varroa mites and small hive beetles are blamed as well as pesticides for the bees' destruction so far in Hawaii, Starr said.

The mites carry a "horrible disease where it attaches itself to the neck of the bee and then literally sucks the life out it," Starr said. Meanwhile, he said that the beetles carry nosema disease, which "is like dysentery for bees."

A beetle outbreak attacking Hawaii's bees since last year is foul blood disease. This sort of turns the eggs to "a smelly mush," and they are unable to hatch, Starr said. The slime also destroys beekeeper equipment, and those eggs that do hatch sometimes contain maggots.

"In the last few years, most bee producers on the Mainland have lost a third to a half of their bees," Starr said.

Downey said that one thing absolutely no one should be doing - and is illegal in Hawaii - is buying bees online and having them shipped here.

Most beekeepers either buy queens from one another or go into the wild and capture a queen from a hive on a tree.

Abercrombie recognizes the importance of protecting bees and "saving vital contributions to our food supply and environment." Bee-dependent crops include Hawaii's beloved mangos, lychees, avocados and macadamia nuts.

But it's not all defense, doom and gloom, Downey said. Bees can be resilient, just look how they can survive nature's harshest winters.

To promote the natural growth of bees in the wild, and thus keep a fresh supply of queens for beekeepers, Downey is asking residents to play their part. That means planting more flowers that bloom year round or the fragrant herbal gardens, she said.

And, of course, Downey and other experts are asking everyone to make sure they are buying real Hawaii-made honey.

* Chris Hamilton can be reached at
© Copyright 2011 The Maui News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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