Millions of Australian bees are under “lockdown,” and thousands will be destroyed, following the discovery of a deadly parasite in the country.
The varroa destructor was discovered in a port near Sydney last week, but it has since been found in hives 100 kilometers away.
The outbreak has the potential to cost the honey and food industries millions of dollars.
Until further notice, keepers inside a new biosecurity zone will be unable to relocate hives, bees, or honeycombs.
Australia was the only continent free of varroa mites, the world’s most serious threat to bees.
The pests, which are about the size of a sesame seed, feed on colonies and spread viruses, weakening and killing them.
After the mites were discovered in seven locations across New South Wales, authorities implemented several biosecurity measures to contain the outbreak.
Any hives within 10 kilometers of infested areas – approximately 400 so far – will be destroyed, while colonies within 25 kilometers will be inspected and monitored.
A “bee lockdown,” which prohibits bee movement across the state, is also in effect.
According to NSW Farmers’ Ian McColl, this is critical to preventing the outbreak from destroying producers.
If the mites continue to spread, it could cost the honey industry alone $70 million ($48 million, £39 million) per year, he claims.
Bee pollination is responsible for approximately one-third of Australia’s food production, including almonds, apples, and avocados.
“Bees are an essential component of our manufacturing system,” Mr. McColl added. “This is not only a concern for industry; it is also a major community concern.”
Other types of varroa mite have been eradicated in Queensland and Victoria, and farmers expect the next few days to be critical in containing the outbreak.