There are many advantages to being the most isolated land mass on the planet. Up until April 2007, Hawaii had been free of a pest that has plagued honey bee populations across the world known as varroa mites.
So free in fact, that a major commercial industry has thrived on the BIg Island, providing "Clean Queens," or Queen bees that are disease free to the world of bee keepers.
The discovery of the varroa bee mite at a bee farm in Manoa last week after abandoned hives in Makiki were moved to Manoa last week and could pose a serious threat to Hawai'i's honey bee industry the state Department of Agriculture said in a news release yesterday.
The mites is fatal to the colonoies of bees as it bores holes in adult bees, pupae and larvae for the blood, causing defects in emerging bees, and killing adults.
Bee mites, as well as fungus and viral infections, overwork and poor diets of corn syrup and GMO pollen have been recently implicated as part of the serious problem for the Bee Colony Collapse Disorder causing global concerns for the long term health of bee populations and affecting the flowers and crops they pollinate.
Varroa mites were detected on bees in three of the abandoned hives on April 6 by the beekeeper and reported to the HDOA.
Across the nation the Bee Colony Collapse Disorder has caused problem with orchards and crop pollination, honey production. Bees are a key component to the nations $14 billion agriculture economy as well as intrinsic to the food supply and are tasked with the pollination of approximately one third of all U.S. crops.
Samples of the mites have been sent to a mite specialist at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory on the Mainland to confirm identification, the HDOA release said.
Sandra Lee Kunimoto, HDOA chairwoman, said if the samples come back positive, the bee mite poses a major threat to Hawai'i's bee industry and feral bee populations.
The state has been testing negative for for the mites' presence since July 2000, Varroa mites are indigenous to Asia but have spread around the world. Prior testing in Hawai'i indicated the mite hadn't reached here. Investigators said they do not know how the mite got to the islands. It is illegal to transport bees to Hawaii.
"Teams of HDOA staff have been working rapidly to determine the extent of the infestation and to establish containment and control plans," Kunimoto stated in the news release.
So far hives in the Tantalus, the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and Makiki area have detected varying degrees of infestation of the mite.
Commercial hives on the Big Island, where several of the state's queen bee raising operations are located, have not detected the varroa mite. The HDOA said it is not known at this time how the mites were introduced to O'ahu, but the Plant Quarantine Branch is preparing a quarantine order preventing the interisland movement of bees and beekeeping equipment. In the meantime, beekeepers are being asked not to move bees interisland.
DOA Plant Industry staff from three branches, including entomologists, plant quarantine inspectors, plant pest control specialists and pesticides specialists, have mobilized statewide and are working closely with the local bee industry and USDA officials.
Lyle Wong, administrator of HDOA's Plant Industry Division, urged beekeepers, commercial and backyard hobbyists to help assess the infestation.
"HDOA officials will be visiting bee hives to conduct surveys and the cooperation of beekeepers is very crucial in possibly stopping the spread of the varroa mite," he said.
Entomologists and pest-control specialists are surveying all islands for the mites as soon as possible.
Beekeepers who suspect that bees in their hives have the varroa mite are asked to contact HDOA as soon as possible at 973-9530 (O'ahu) or the state's toll-free hotline at 643-PEST (7378)