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Minister of Home Affairs Walter Roban held a press conference this afternoon [May 20] to provide an update on Bermuda’s bees and the Ministry’s partnership with MIT.
Minister Roban said, “As many of you will know, for a while now I have had an interest in beekeeping and the important role bees have in our environment. So, it should come as no surprise that the current work being undertaken with Bermuda’s bees and beeswax in association with the MIT programme has had a deep interest for me. Today, I want to share some current facts with you and highlight some of the challenges facing our bee population today.
“Bermuda has had a long history with the honeybee, with some of the earliest records indicating that the first honey bees arrived in Bermuda in the early1600s.
“A letter from Robert Rich to his brother in England, sent in 1616, stated, “ the bees you sent do prosper well.” And honey bees, for the most part, have continued to “prosper well” in Bermuda for almost the next four centuries.
“The history and importance of the bees in Bermuda and in general are still valid. There are several dozen hobbyist beekeepers and a handful of commercial beekeepers here on island, with 350 hives, each with its queen.
“Our native bee, the Solitary Bee which is a Leafcutter Bee, is protected under the Protected Species Act 2003, and there are several other varieties found on our shores. Our current crop of Bees has some genetic diversity from mixing with previous imports, perhaps an older German style of Bee, therefore possess some genetic diversity here that is not found anywhere else.
“In fact, there are bees in Bermuda with a diverse variety of genetics [Russian, Italian, western, German, etc] that contribute in a very special way to Bermuda’s natural environment. There are over 20,000 varieties of Bees around the world.
“As we have seen through the recent programme with MIT, bees and beeswax are an important part of science and science research.
“Our relationship with Dr. Danielle Wood dates back to April 2018, when I was speaking at the 34th Annual Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I participated on a panel on emerging spacefaring countries and she approached me about working with the Bermuda Government.
“Dr. Wood is a member of our Space Advisory Panel which provides advice, expert opinion, and guidance on the development of Bermuda’s space and satellite product.
“Dr. Wood now leads a team from MIT’s Media Lab called ‘Space Enabled’, whose focus is on sustainability, using space technologies to advance justice in the world’s complex systems. She brings the perspective of responsible development to us, as we wish to become known as a jurisdiction of best practice.
“We are working on the particulars of an MOU with MIT to develop a more formal working partnership with their academic community, to explore learning opportunities for students of varying levels. Dr. Wood’s encouragement and guidance were in part responsible for our space camps in the past, and we look forward to hosting [Covid-appropriate!] camps in the future.
“This past week we were at the center of the successful launch of the Black Brant XII rocket from Wallops Flights facility in Virginia. We are often visited by personnel from NASA and the European Space Agency, the ESA, who monitor and provide mission support to launches coming out of South America and the US, and anywhere else that has a polar trajectory [because if launched in the Atlantic, the rocket has to fly past us].
“This is all very exciting research, and we hope that Bermuda’s bees continue to support researchers in the area of international space operations for many more years to come. However, we must also work together on the local front to protect and understand the value they offer our ecosystem here at home.
“Bees play a vital part in maintaining our planet, allowing our survival and that of our habitats and ecosystems.
“Their greatest role is as a pollinator, ensuring that trees and plants reproduce and proliferate. As we know, plants make up much of our food supply as well as that of our livestock. They also produce vital oxygen for our survival. It has been estimated that one-third of the world’s food production depends on insect pollination, most of which is carried out by bees, i.e. every third spoonful of food depends on pollination.
“In Bermuda, bees are responsible for the pollination of almost every above-ground crop, including beans, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin, cucumbers, citrus, peaches, and cherries; the pollination of Bermuda’s rare native, endemic and endangered plants; not to mention our ornamental flowers and trees that make the island so beautiful.
“Without bees, locally produced crops will be unavailable for consumption, negatively affecting both the farmers and the consumers, and the small but thriving honey production industry will also fail.
“Information I have seen suggests the service bees give to agriculture globally is an estimated US$70 billion every year. This is just one of the reasons so much attention has been grown on the care and survival of the bee population in recent years.
“A lack of area for foraging, and pests such as the varroa mite have become problematic for local bees. However, our remoteness has allowed us to have kept bees for 400 years and this is the first recorded instance of this pest.
“Current laws in place ensure that we do not allow bee imports and now no queen bees helped delay this arrival of the Varroa Mite by some 20 years.
“Bermuda’s bee population was hit badly in 2009 when the varroa mite hit the Island. This had added impact on local agriculture. By October 2010 the mite had infected most of the beehives in Bermuda causing thousands of local bees to die.
“Over the last decade, the bee population has grown from strength to strength. Beekeeping has grown in interest with apiaries, commonly known as hives, maintained even by some members of the corporate community. A few years ago Bacardi International set up an apiary. They even have one of their selected brands of spirits made with honey.
“Several local beekeepers are helping to popularize local honey which is sold by roadside stands and even marketed on social media. This new generation of beekeepers should be applauded for rebuilding the craft and increasing public interest in bees and their wonderful by-products.
“The recovery of the local bee in no small measure must be credited to the work and patience of Bermudians. Credit to all the local beekeepers, researchers, and apiarists who continue the long tradition of managing and balancing our island’s bee population.
“Those same beekeepers responded positively to my request to donate a consignment of local beeswax to support Bermuda’s participation in the MIT project.
“Our bee population can benefit from more awareness and our local apiarists will benefit from having the public buy Bermuda honey. We encourage individuals to not spray pesticides indiscriminately.
“In conclusion, we applaud all the local beekeepers, researchers, and apiarists who continue the long tradition of managing and balancing our island’s bee population. In particular, I would like to mention a man that I consider to be the father of modern beekeeping in Bermuda, the late Randolph Furbert, who inspired and taught a number of local beekeepers who are carrying on the tradition.
“For more information on how you can help, please contact the Agriculture Service Centre 292-4611.”
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