Bee Collapse: The Sudden Dying of Bee Colonies Remains a Mystery | Retro Report
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Bee Collapse: The Sudden Dying of Bee Colonies Remains a Mystery | Retro Report

This might be one of the most interesting, disturbing,
and puzzling stories to come along in a long time. In early 2007, the news broke that beekeepers across the United States had made a surprising discovery. Bees are mysteriously dying. It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder. Beekeepers in 27 states report disappearing honeybees. Pollination by bees produces 30% of our food. Congress is holding hearings, even the Vice
President has been briefed. The end of honeybees, the end of pollination,
a dire threat to crops the world over. Today, what’s happening to the bees, and
what’s really at stake? The buzz began with these bees
at Dave Hackenberg’s bee farm. Ground Zero for the mystery of the missing bees. In November of 2006, Dave Hackenberg discovered
that nearly all of the 400 beehives in his Florida bee yard were empty. So this is what you call a dead hive? Yup. Empty box. No bees. The veteran beekeeper had seen bees die before,
but never like this. I keep asking myself, what am I doing wrong? I mean, it’s, uh, it’s a mind-boggling thing.
I mean it really is a mind-boggling thing. Hackenberg contacted scientists at
Pennsylvania State University. They were intrigued by the beekeeper’s story. And I said, well, bring up some bees and we’ll
check it out. And so indeed he brought up some bees and
those bees got sampled and we found all these things I couldn’t explain and I didn’t
understand, and certainly nothing popped out. And then it became apparent that this was
happening in different parts of the country. Van Engelsdorp helped give the die off a name
– Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. Suddenly, bees were big news. The population of honeybees down roughly 25%
across this country. It’s a simple equation, without bees to
pollinate many plants, the plants just don’t grow. The fear is most of the honey bees will be dead. The mystery fascinated the public, and strange
explanations soon began to spread. Do you buy that this could be a Russian plot? Not really. The Rapture? God calling all the bees back to heaven? Uh, I don’t think he needs ‘em up there. But much of the television coverage missed
an important bit of backstory. Beekeepers had been struggling
to maintain their hives ever since the 1980’s, when the invasive Varroa Mite arrived in the US. We have a saying, before Varroa Mite you could
be a bee-haver, after Verroa Mite, you had to be a bee-keeper
because you had to manage your bees. Verroa Mite’s infest and slowly weaken colonies, but Hackenbergs CCD losses came quickly to colonies that appeared healthy. A number of us thought that we may be dealing
with a new pathogen, a novel pathogen. So if we could find that novel pathogen,
let’s say a virus or something, then that might explain – that was the missing link. The only thing we could say about CCD bees
and it was a very distinct thing, was they were really sick,
they sort of had every disease going. One theory was that stress was making bees sick. To meet the growing pollination demands of
large scale agriculture, commercial beekeepers truck their bees from state to state to pollinate
crop after crop. Some of us are running these bees to, you
know, two, three four crops a year pollinating. And so they don’t get a chance to ever
get rejuvenated. And it used to be, you could get them onto
some clean food for two or three weeks and away they go, but pasture land in general
is running out because of land being turned into crop land and so we are running out of
places to go with the bees. More crops mean more pesticides, and many
beekeepers have blamed CCD on neonicotinoids, widely used chemicals that are absorbed by
plants and can accumulate in pollen and nectar. The European Union voted to suspend the use of neonicotinoids because of possible links to bee collapse. The EPA is reviewing these pesticides, but
a direct link to CCD has not been established. Indeed, most scientists now believe that no
single factor can explain the phenomenon. We’re probably dealing with multiple factors coming together to cause a set of symptoms that we call CCD. Personally, I fall back to nutritional stress and maybe pesticide stress leading to pathogen outbreak, I’ll call it. And so the pathogen, or the types of pathogens that are there, don’t really matter that much. But the bees are in a weakened state and that allows these pathogens to multiply and cause the bees to die. Bees have this behavior called altruistic suicide. What happens is that a bee somehow knows she
is sick, flies away from the hive so she does not infect her nest mates. And so we think that explains behavior of
collapse, why we are not finding dead bees and why we are seeing this quick spiral down
in the population. In South America right now and moving north
towards North America, there’s a new strand of bees. Colony Collapse was not the first time bees
captured the public’s attention. This is the African Killer Bee. In the last four years, responsible for the
deaths of hundreds of people in South America. In the 1970’s, fears over the spread of
Africanized honey bees gave bees a bad name. But since the onset of Colony Collapse Disorder, bees have become a symbol of environmental protection. If you couldn’t understand what they were singing:
“All we are saying, give bees a chance.” When people saw the bees they said “Uh-huh, here’s something that I can really do something significant.” You could save the bees by actually
getting some bees. Hobby beekeeper Jim Fischer keeps about two
dozen beehives on Manhattan rooftops and he teaches beekeeping classes
in Central Park and Brooklyn. He says enrollment surged in the wake of the
CCD mystery. Hundreds of people, more people you could
fit in a room started attending the classes. They call it urban beekeeping
and it’s getting a ton of buzz. Pre media blitz, pre CCD, beekeeping was a
hobby taken up by retired, white, blue collar guys for the most part. The demographic immediately became a lot younger,
a lot more female. They got a good home,
they got lots of comb. Before I started I was nervous because of
all the diseases, but as a community across the country we are eventually going to figure
it out, and being part of that process is what I think is for the common good. There’s been a couple of silver-linings
on this CCD story. One is just public awareness about the role
that pollinators play in their food supply. It’s also brought new researchers from other areas. Scientists are attaching tiny backpacks to
honey bees in order to study them. These radio frequency ID tags track bees as
they move through the landscape to help better understand the causes
of Colony Collapse Disorder. At Harvard University, scientists are taking a different approach; they’ve engineered the robobee. It’s still a work in progress and there
are several other potential uses, but these miniature robots
could one day assist with crop pollination. But the dire predictions of the falling bee
populations leading to a food crisis have not come to pass. Beekeepers replace their dead hives, so there are just as many honey bee colonies in the US today as there were in 2006. We are not worried at all that bees are going
to go extinct in this country, or in the world. What we’re worried about is that will
we have the beekeepers? We’re buying bees to keep our head above
the water. It’s not the basic beekeeping that I remember
as a kid and as a young guy running bees, you know, it’s just there’s a whole lot
of things that changed. There’s lots of days that I would just like
to pull the plug, you know and just walk away, but I like what I’m doing, I mean, you know. It’s something that gets into your system
and doesn’t go away. Today, honeybee colonies continue to die off
in large numbers, but the CCD mystery has as new twist. We haven’t seen as much CCD over the past few years. The classic symptoms of CCD have changed or disappeared but we are still loosing a lot of colonies. And that can be for a variety of reasons:
parasitic Verroa Mite, pesticide exposure, poor nutrition, nutritional distress and in
particular we are seeing a lot of queen loss, so we are doing some queen experiments here. There’s a multitude of things beekeepers
are facing in order to keep colonies alive in addition to CCD.

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