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Cyclone damage shows New Zealand beekeepers are unprepared for climate change new zealand

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TeaTwo months after a cyclone swept away thousands of bees in the fertile fruit bowl of New Zealand’s North Island, beekeepers face a painful and costly recovery, raising questions about how they will adapt to the intensifying climate crisis. Will be

When Cyclone Gabriel roared over the North Island in February, killing 11 people and causing billions of dollars in damage, it ravaged the orchards and vineyards of Hawke’s Bay and the east coast – where pips, kiwifruit and wine are grown Exports are lucrative – and destroy 5,000 to 6,000 of the bees that pollinate them. It represented a “severity and damage … not experienced in a generation”, said the Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins.

The storm came just a fortnight after record flooding in Auckland, and came after insurers announced that 2022 was set to be the costliest on record for climate-related weather claims in New Zealand, a country with 15,000km of coastline and Weak for the growing season. warm sea. As the cyclone cleanup began, beekeepers said the disaster underscored the need for more climate planning.

A truck stuck on a debris-covered road near Wairoa on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island following Cyclone Gabriel. Thousands of bees are out of reach. Photograph: New Zealand Defense Force/AFP/Getty Images

“We can’t just continue to do what we’ve done in the past and expect things to be okay,” says East Coast beekeeper Barry Foster. “Climate change is here and it’s about to get more intense and worse.”

The sector “hasn’t really had that kind of discussion,” says Foster, adding it would have to facilitate primary industries because beekeepers rely on farm and orchard land to host their hives.

Honey represents less than 1% of New Zealand’s export products by June 2022 – generating $453 million in revenue – but its presence is bigger than sales. Beekeeping sustains the country’s horticulture sector, and honey – particularly the indigenous Manuka type – has increased marketing and tourism appeal abroad.

A bee collecting pollen from New Zealand manuka flowers. The country is famous for its Manuka honey. Photograph: Christopher Wood / Alamy

The hives destroyed in the cyclone across New Zealand were a small number of around 650,000 to 750,000, and the vast stores of honey that had grown during the previous two years of the pandemic had prevented the cyclone from denting supplies for the time being. But beekeepers say the full scale of the damage is not yet known and their fate is closely tied to that of the gardeners who use their hives for pollination.

Thousands of hives are impassable in remote areas, with dozens of roads and bridges impassable in the region. Some beekeepers in Hawke’s Bay are facing a six-hour drive to check hives 50km away, while others say it will take days to reach their hives.

“We will probably know the number of lost hives in a year,” says David Hills, secretary of Beekeepers Hawkes Bay. “Many of these rural roads are not accessible and in fact getting around some of the farms where the bee hives may not be possible until October or November next year.”

This poses a threat to bees – both to the bees, who need to feed after a harsh winter and unproductive summer, and to diseases such as the varroa mite and American foul brood, which are devastating if left untreated.

the final straw

The Ministry for Primary Industries announced last month that Sector Body Apiculture New Zealand would distribute $250,000 in funding to affected beekeepers to deal with biosecurity risks. Grants can be used for fuel, equipment rental and additional wages needed to assist in the recovery and recovery of damaged gear and hives – but not for the cost of replacing destroyed hives or disease treatment.

Beekeepers welcome the funding, but say it will only help those who have access to their hives, or who still have hives. Some beehives had disappeared during the storm; Others were found kilometers away, buried under silt.

Civil defense funding was offered by the government after the disaster, but it only covers salaries and wages. No other recovery fund has been announced for the sector.

A farmer attends to his land injured by slippage and landslides during Cyclone Gabriel. Beekeepers depend on farmers for land for their hives. Photograph: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

“Most beekeepers don’t have bee insurance, because most people can’t get it,” says Lars Jansson, CEO of Melita Honey in Hawke’s Bay. He says that the company has a lot of honey stock and its exports will not be affected.

But beekeepers in the region say they know of others for whom Cyclone Gabriel was the last straw.

“Some people were already leaving the industry because it has been tough enough,” says Karin Kos, chief executive of Apiculture New Zealand. “Certainly business decisions will be made for some of the beekeepers in the affected areas that perhaps the time has come for them to leave the industry.”

Some beekeepers say the race for available land to house hives has become such a heated competition that a cooling off of the industry was welcome — but the fact is it was prompted by a wild natural disaster.

“It hasn’t been really easy for beekeepers in the last two or three years, especially if you don’t have a brand,” Jansson says. “We need some of the youngsters who have come into the industry in the last few years who are good beekeepers, otherwise it is not good for us in the long run.”