By Diane Haynes Woodburn
Bzzzzz . . . the sound of bees in the rose bushes is welcome music. Not long ago, I would have had a very different response — but my perspective has changed.
Recently, our friend Grant promised my husband delivery of a few hives. Jamie had kept apiaries many years ago, and was eager to begin again. I was apprehensive. But when the hives didn’t arrive, I began to feel guilty. “Did you cancel the bees because of me?” I asked. “No.” (What was I thinking?) “When Grant went to get the hives, they were empty,” Jamie said. “It’s called ‘colony collapse,’ and it’s a big a problem.”
Indeed. As early as 2006 beekeepers in North America and Europe began reporting that honeybees were disappearing in, well, swarms. They would leave the nest one day — and simply not return. Mainland beekeepers reported losses of 30 to 90 percent. Some were completely wiped out. And now, bees are disappearing in Hawaii. What is going on?
Researchers first suspected a virus, fungus or mites. Other hypotheses guessed at stress and even cell-phone signals as a cause. In Hawaii, scientists are focusing on the small hive beetle, and the varroa bee mite found here in 2007. But Dave Hackenberg, a respected Pennsylvania beekeeper, has a different theory. He and many others believe that Colony Collapse Disorder is caused by a class of widespread pesticides called neonicotinoids.
A study completed at Harvard University in early April by Chensheng Lu supports the theory. Dr. Lu sees a direct link between hive health and exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides. Even in nonlethal doses, he believes, the poison disrupts learning and navigation. Although Dr. Lu’s work is inconclusive, Hackenberg notes that in France, Germany and Italy, where the pesticides were banned, honeybees have shown recovery.
On the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Rachel Carson’s prophetic book Silent Spring, the plight of the honeybee is particularly poignant. Yet the happy buzzing coming from the flowers encourages me — efforts to preserve the balance and harmony of our environment, from the tiniest insect to alternative energy, truly do make a difference.
In this, our annual environmental issue, we salute the many men and women of Maui who are making a difference — every day.
Meet our heroes: folks like Jim Coon, owner and captain of Trilogy Excursions, who has been working to protect our ocean environment since the seventies — years before “eco-friendly” was part of the vocabulary; Kuhea Paracuelles, whose outreach work at Haleakala National Park inspires our kids to take part in protecting open spaces; and Bryon Stevens, who works at the edge of the world, in terrain too steep and wet for most humans, repairing the damage done by invasive animals that threaten our watershed. And Rick Rutiz, who teaches at-risk kids not only how to wield a hammer, but how to incorporate green building practices while constructing much-needed housing in Hana.
And bigger yet — Teya Penniman’s story “Maui EVA & the Smart Grid” examines how Maui is poised to become the epicenter of a power revolution that will change the way we fuel our homes, cars, and industries. Happy collaborations among UH Maui College, local government, and isle businesses and organizations are bringing international attention — and tens of millions of investment dollars — to Maui’s innovative efforts to reduce our independence on fossil fuels.
“Over here.” A familiar voice disrupts my rose pruning. Making my way across the garden, I find Grant setting two beehives near the citrus trees. “What happened?” I asked. A simple answer suffices. “They came back.”
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. — Rachel Carson