Biosafety zone established after deadly honeybee parasite detected in NSW

The Varroa mite, also known as the Varroa destructor, was spotted by biosecurity monitoring in hives in Newcastle harbour.

The mite is considered the most serious pest for honeybees worldwide and is currently not found in Australia.

The varroa destructor is having devastating effects on bee colonies around the world.
The varroa destructor is having devastating effects on bee colonies around the world. (USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab)

NSW Agriculture Secretary Dugald Saunders said the state government is acting quickly to contain a potential outbreak.

“We immediately launched an eradication plan, establishing a biosecurity zone, which included the infected hives and euthanized the bees,” Saunders said.

“Australia is the only major honey-producing country that is free of Varroa mite, and if given the chance to settle here, it could cost the honey industry more than $70 million a year.”

Varroa destroyers cling to and feast on bees.
Varroa destroyers cling to and feast on bees. (USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab)

The biosecurity zone extends for a radius of 50 km around the port of Newcastle.

Beekeepers in that zone are not allowed to move or tamper with their hives.

They are also instructed to contact the NSW Department of Primary Industries with the location of all their cabinets.

A 50km radius from Newcastle Port would extend northwards along Nelson Bay, southwards to Wyong and westwards to Branxton.

It would include Cessnock, Maitland, Raymond Terrace and Tea Gardens.

“Without their dedication to monitoring beehives and catch boxes in strategic locations around our ports and airports, this threat would have gone undetected,” Saunders said.

Varroa destructors are small reddish brown parasites.

Varroa destructors are seen on bee dolls.
Varroa destructors are seen on bee dolls. (US Department of Agriculture)

Although they are very small, they are recognizable to the naked eye.

The parasite clings to the body of honeybees and spreads debilitating viruses such as misshapen wing virus.

Bees are often unable to develop and function properly due to varroa destructors that feed on them.

Varroa destroyers are commonly responsible for the collapse of large numbers of colonies between hives.

The varroa destructor was found on bees in Newcastle harbour.
The varroa destructor was found on bees in Newcastle harbour. (Kate Geraghty)

In addition to providing honey, bees are needed for the pollination of many other vital crops.

They include potatoes, onions, apples, grapes, citrus fruits, cotton and coffee.

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