2018 April: Busselton Bee Deaths (Western Australia)

Bee deaths investigated


5 April 2019

Bee colonies in Busselton and Vasse have been dying and while experts have not yet confirmed the cause and extent, apiarists are pointing to insecticide.

Beekeepers first noticed colonies dying about a month ago and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development confirmed it has since received several reports.

The issue appears to be concentrated in West Busselton and Vasse but beekeeper Catherine Talbot conceded it was difficult to track given bees’ foraging habits.

“One of my hives is next door and they’re all dead but the two in my backyard are fine,” she said.

“I know of another in Vasse whose hives are fine and a friend of mine … knows of six (that aren’t).

“It all depends on where the bees are going.”

The Times understands bee deaths from insecticides are not uncommon but Ms Talbot and fellow beekeeper Andrew Weinert said it was the first time they had experienced it locally.

Mr Weinert lost two not-well-established hives and said the remaining bees were still dying.

“There is no easy way to pin point the source of the insecticide as bees will fly up to 5km in any direction,” he said.

Some apiarists queried whether routine spraying by the City of Busselton could be responsible but acting chief executive Paul Needham said the same products had now been used for several years.

“Minor spraying on an ongoing basis is undertaken across the broad area by our parks and gardening crew,” he said.

“The product has been used for many years across the municipality in generally mild doses and we do not believe it would adversely impact bee populations.”

DPIRB is making further inquiries into the reports and said if apiarists suspected insecticide as the cause of bee deaths, they could organise laboratory testing of honey or wax and unusual behaviour or death should be reported.

Renee Hall, who recently started keeping bees with the help of Ms Talbot, said it was distressing to watch the bees die and believed it to be indicative of “the bigger picture”.

“My husband’s been out there sweeping up the poor, disoriented bees — it’s really sad,” she said.

“And it’s got me thinking about what we put onto our food. I make strawberry jam and I think about all the pesticides that go onto strawberries — we eat that stuff.”

Ms Talbot likened the situation to “the canary in the coal mine”.

“It raises awareness about how many toxic elements are in the environment,” she said.

“If bees in your backyard are dying … it makes you wonder what else is going on out there.”