Bee sanctuaries interest me more and more, from the 600-year-old hive in a Rosslyn Chapel pinnacle that I wrote about the other day, to the tiny one I’m working to establish in the middle of a city, to Kangaroo Island, a bee sanctuary since 1885 and on Colonsay, a little island off Scotland. So I was excited to hear about another one, on the South Pacific island of Niue, 100 square miles, population 1400 – not too big, not too small. This time, it’s a sanctuary with an economic purpose.
The only beekeeper on Niue, Andy Cory, owns and oversees 1000 hives of Italian bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) brought to Niue many years ago. Thanks to Niue’s relative isolation, its ideal size and its limited ports and tourism, the bees have effectively lived in a sanctuary ever since, in a tropical paradise for bees.
And now Andy wants to formalise his apiary’s status as a Pacific bee sanctuary, so it is internationally recognised. And he needs our help with his crowdfunding campaign, where he provides some lovely details about his beekeeping life on Niue. Like this, which highlights how he doesn’t need to feed his bees supplemental sugar-
Andy nearly lost all the bees in 2004 [in a cyclone]…the French navy …brought him sugar to feed as a supplement until native vegetation recovered. Consequently, to mitigate against the risk of losing all the bees in the aftermath of future cyclones, we now have a sufficient store of organic sugar on Island.
This is what Andy wants to do, with help from Richard Duncan who is organising the crowdfunding, as he further develops healthy and protected stock to draw from in the future-
Phase 1: strengthen and grow the current apiculture operation on Niue and develop export markets in order to generate revenue, build partnerships and learning. And provide a solid foundation and financial resources sufficient to underwrite the creation and sustain the operation of a Global Bee Sanctuary.
Phase 2: develop the ‘Global Bee Sanctuary’ and begin to export live bee stocks and/or genetic breeding material to other Pacific Island countries, as well as other key food producing countries. This is where the venture shifts to regional and then global in its impact.
Hive numbers will increase to 4000 and local landowners wIll be paid under a hive rental arrangement. According to Richard Duncan, in an interview with Radio New Zealand
People of Niue, they’re custodians of these bees as well and that’s kind of why we’re shifting to this social enterprise model because we want to bring them more into this whole operation and make sure they are benefiting as well. The business grows. They get a return. Therefore they take pride in protecting these bees and being custodians of these bees.
This is a wonderfully ambitious project and I want to support it as well as I can. It would be glorious to have bee sanctuaries all over the world. And even better if they benefit the people who share their environment.
The government of Niue is right behind Andy and has strengthened bio-security measures to ban the import of all bees and bee products. Nosema does exist but, as in parts of Africa, appears to have negligible effect on the health of the thriving bees. There’s been just one case of American foul brood in 8 years. And Andy’s Save the Bee Honey is certified as organic, after passing all the BioGro NZ tests.
But questions and vigilance are necessary. Every time.
For instance, Andy’s bees may struggle to survive in countries he exports too, often because of exposure to disease and pesticides. (Alderney, a European Channel Island, has a similar challenge within a similar project.) How will he be able to help ‘Save The Bee’ in those places?
Andy’s bees may be better able to resist disease than bees who have always lived in another environment. But will they be able to resist the ill-effects of pesticides there? Recent research shows that ubiquitous glyphosate is probably carcinogenic and that it harms bees. It also shows that when bees forage they are attracted to widely used neonics – neonicotinoids – that will harm them (see the Bibliography tab above for references). Unless those countries’ inherent risks are reduced, it’s likely that pesticide use will compromise the health of any Niuean bees they import, just as nearby glyphosate spraying and flowers grown from neonic-treated seeds and plants may affect the health of the bees I attract to my garden.
And as Monsanto products in particular become outlawed in some places, it’s likely that the organisation is promoting or will promote them more intensively in other markets. Like Niue. Like parts of Africa. So what about glyphosate and neonic use in Niue, which may compromise it as a sanctuary for bees?
Niueans have New Zealand citizenship so Niue has very close relationships with New Zealand, where import and use of neonics is unregulated. It’s also an agricultural nation (taro, organic vanilla and noni, according to one report I found.) A small risk already exists.
I’ve been told, twice, that Niueans do not use pesticides. But they are there. I found a Niuean ground water analysis (2010) that included a list of pesticides imported into Niue. Glyphosate was on that list and was found present in the water at <0.001 mg.L, significantly lower than United States drinking water standards and not considered problematic.
No neonicotinoids I recognised were on the import list perhaps because, as in New Zealand, it is unregulated. Will the Niuean government’s support of ‘Save The Bee’, as well as organic vanilla and noni, extend to outlawing pesticides and investing in alternative agricultural practices, as a world leader? That would make a huge difference.
BioGro NZ’s practices are also important. It does not yet test for neonics or glysophate, so there’s been no check of their presence in Andy’s honey.
To certify honey as organic, BioGro NZ tests it under the ‘multiresidue suite’ of approximately 200 common pesticides useHd in New Zealand. The organisation told me-
These suites do not typically cover glyphosate or neonicotinoids… [W]hen we recently requested isolated glyphosate testing for honey, we were advised that this was not yet offered in New Zealand.
It seems that New Zealand laboratories may extend their services to glyphosate and neonic testing soon, which would resolve this issue for the Niuean organic honey, among others.
And another element of BioGro NZ’s process is encouraging because it reduces the risk of pesticide contamination by certifying-
… only operations where we have verifiable landuser statements for land within 3km radius of the hives confirming no prohibited pesticide use.
The ‘prohibited’ pesticides referred to in landuser statements are those listed in BioGro NZ protocols and they DO include glyphosphate and neonicotinoids, though of course bees can forage beyond 3km.
On balance, after this little bit of research I feel confident that, for now, Niue’s close to a true bee sanctuary for honey-producing bees in the Pacific. And deserves our strong support. It may be one of the few bee-related initiatives that can make a long term difference.
And I wonder what you think, because I may have missed something essential. Or made an error. Please let me know if so.