New Aussie technology and funding could halt one of the 21st century’s most troubling trends: the sudden decline in bee populations around the world.
The problem, which started making headlines about 15 years ago, is serious because honey bees pollinate* one third of the food we eat each day. The contribution they make to Australian agriculture* alone has been valued at between $4-$6 billion.
Now cheesemaker Bega is exploring a possible solution as it pushes into the $100 million Australian honey market.
Dubbed the Purple Hive Project, the company will use 360-degree cameras and artificial intelligence* to scan bee colonies for the Varroa mite, which has caused the collapse of bee populations around the world.
The technology will scan each bee in a hive, and if the mite is detected, an alert will be triggered, enabling it to be quickly quarantined*.
The mite has not yet taken hold in Australia, apart from one small infestation* in Townsville in 2016, but its arrival in New Zealand in the early 2000s strengthened efforts to monitor bee colonies here.
Ian Cane, a third generation beekeeper from Bairnsdale in Victoria, said the fact the mite had been largely kept out of Australia so far was partly good surveillance* and partly good luck.
“We’re the only continent on earth now where the bee populations are not subjected* to this parasite,” he said.
He said Australia’s production of honey and foods that result from pollination would drop significantly if the mite got in.
He warned Australia’s climate, particularly in the tropical north, made it vulnerable* to the mite.
He said bees had babies more often the further north you went in Australia and this would give the mite more chance to breed.
“So we think it would have a devastating impact in that sense,” Mr Cane said.
Bega Foods executive general manager Adam McNamara said the technology was being tested in Australia using “artificial Varroa” and in New Zealand using the real thing.
“The ability to detect and then ultimately manage Varroa we believe is just a massive step forward for the industry,” he said.
Bega recently launched its 100 per cent Australian made B Honey range, part of a growing range of products for the company that now also includes peanut butter and Vegemite.
Saving the bees: The Purple Hive project
- pollinate: move pollen to a plant, allowing it to make seeds and fruit
- agriculture: farming, growing food
- artificial intelligence: computer systems that can do tasks normally done by people
- quarantined: moved away from others
- infestation: a large number of pests that cause damage or disease
- surveillance: watching
- subjected: affected by
- vulnerable: at risk
- What fraction of the food we eat is pollinated by honey bees?
- What is the value of the contribution honey bees make to Australian agriculture?
- What is the name of the mite threatening the world’s bee populations?
- Which Australia town had a small infestation of the mite?
- Why is Australia’s tropical north more vulnerable to the mite?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Write a summary
Begin by reading the article and highlighting or jotting down the key words and phrases that you think are the most important. (Tip: consider the main idea of each sentence or paragraph as you decide what to highlight.) Then use the information you have highlighted to write a summary of the article with a maximum of 100 words. Your summary should be able to communicate to anyone who reads it what is happening and why, but without going into the smaller details.
Then sketch a picture or diagram to accompany your summary.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
Can you summarise your summary? You have a 10 word limit to try to capture what this story is all about. Write as many versions of your 10 word summary as you need to in order to get it ‘just right’.
Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
Have you seen this mite?
Make a wanted poster of the mite causing havoc to bee colonies. Include a picture and a detailed description of the effects a mite infestation might cause to bees, flowers and the food we consume each day.
Use your imagination to fill in the missing details from the article to help you complete the poster.
HAVE YOUR SAY: How often do you see bees in your garden?
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