Killer bee mite discovered on ship in Australian waters

November 26, 2012

From: Radio Australia


Thousands of Asian honey bees carrying the devastating Varroa Mite have been discovered on a foreign ship berthed in Sydney.


The Varroa Mite is a tiny parasite which attacks bees and eventually destroys their hives.


While Australia is considered free of the Varroa Mite there are fears that a breakdown in quarantine procedures could lead to the devastation of the local bee population and cause tens of millions of dollars damage to agriculture.


Will Ockenden reports.


Correspondent: Will Ockenden


Speaker: Trevor Weatherhead, Australian Honey Bee Industry Council; John Brent, chairman of AUSVEG


WILL OCKENDEN: It was a close call.


Australian Quarantine inspectors intercepted 2,000 Asian honey bees, carrying hundreds of deadly varroa destructor mites.


TREVOR WEATHERHEAD: They all tell us it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. And within the industry there’s been a lot of plans put in place to deal with the varroa mite when it finally gets here.


WILL OCKENDEN: The mites were found on a ship in Australian waters that had sailed from Singapore.


Trevor Weatherhead is from the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council.


TREVOR WEATHERHEAD: We’re hoping that we never have to put those plans into action and that in cases like this that they will find those swarms of bees on ships and get rid of them before they have a chance to get off and establish themselves on the mainland.


WILL OCKENDEN: The bees were discovered on a bulk carrier as it pulled into port in Sydney.


The Federal Department of Agriculture says the bees were discovered in the vessel’s loading cranes.


It’s confident that none of the bees, or the varroa destructor mite, escaped.


Trevor Weatherhead is relieved.


TREVOR WEATHERHEAD: The good thing about is that they’ve actually found it before it got off the ship. The worry would have been if they didn’t find that swarm of Asian bees and they came off the ship.


WILL OCKENDEN: The varroa mite has taken hold on both New Zealand’s North and South islands, it’s spreading through the Hawaiian Islands and is already in the United States and Canada.


Australia is still thought to be free of the mite, but the country is not free of the Asian honey bee which is a carrier for the varroa mite.


In 2007, Asian honey bees were found in Cairns.


TREVOR WEATHERHEAD: But we were fortunate with that one that when that one came in it never had any varroa mites on it. So the Asian bees, they were already on Cairns. They started an eradication program but they stopped that because they said they thought they couldn’t get rid of them. The industry disagreed with that decision.


WILL OCKENDEN: The vegetable industry is thankful the destructor mites were discovered, but says it highlights broader issues.


John Brent is the chairman at peak grower group AusVeg.


JOHN BRENT: DAFF (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) have been found wanting in the area of being able to assess appropriately risks to Australian product or to an Australian industry. There needs to be a higher level of vigilance.


WILL OCKENDEN: But in this case DAFF did discover the 2,000 Asian honey bees. Aren’t they doing a good enough job?


JOHN BRENT: I am very pleased and our industry would be pleased that DAFF have intercepted product that has a problem. But simply it may have been that this can occur undetected.


WILL OCKENDEN: The Department of Agriculture says varroa mite has been discovered only a handful of times on ships in Australian waters.

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