Sandy’s Wake Widens: 1 Million Honeybees Perish in Brooklyn

Be it Frankenstorms or Colony Collapse Disorder, the buzz about bees is not good.

bees on a honeycomb
Bees swarm on a honeycomb. (Amir Cohen / Reuters)
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

I was lucky enough to work at Gourmet magazine for over a decade, where I was surrounded by an amazingly talented staff made up of individuals who had diverse areas of expertise and side interests. In addition to being a great cook and writer, Food Editor Ian Knauer was also a beekeeper who has been raising bees for years on his family’s farm in Pennsylvania.

In a post he wrote for Gourment back in 2007, he noted that nervousness transfers directly to honeybees—so they’ll sense a person’s nervousness, get nervous themselves, and respond by stinging you.

Unfortunately, bees have a lot to be nervous about these days.

MORE: At Last, an Answer to the Honey Bee Die-Offs?

The Brooklyn Paper reported yesterday that a million bees that had been living on Pier K at the Brooklyn Navy Yard had their hives torn apart when Hurricane Sandy ripped through the New York metropolitan area. The bees were managed by Brooklyn Grange, a group committed to providing more sustainable food to New York.

“They were located in one of the most vulnerable spots,” Chase Emmons, Director of Special Projects & Chief Beekeeper for Brooklyn Grange, tells TakePart. “After the first high tide receded, we went out there and the water hadn’t reached them, so at that point our confidence was high. We put 100-pound concrete pavers on top of each hive to weight them down and strapped them all together. We were ready for something pretty bad, but what rolled in there was seven or eight feet of water. In the aftermath, giant cement trucks were floating around the area, so even if the hives had stayed in place the bees would have drowned.”

Like everything else, “it will take time, money, and effort to restore our operation,” says Emmons. “We’re raising funds, equipment, and bees from friends around the country and we’ll take the winter to rebuild and then we’ll come back even stronger in the spring.”

If you’re interested in helping the organization out, Emmons says a video examining the wreckage, and explaining what happens next, will go live sometime today at brooklyngrangefarm.com, and the site will provide a link for making donations.

Luckily, the bees we reported about last month who have been living in high style on the rooftop terrace of New York City’s Waldorf Astoria hotel were unharmed during the storm. Working with the hotel, Andrew Coté, the founder of Bees Without Borders, provided it with 360,000 bees that produce honey for the Waldorf’s restaurant as part of its farm-to-table initiative. He told TakePart yesterday that the bees “are absolutely fine. They were well protected and cared for and came out totally unscathed.”

While that’s a momentary bit of good news, there’s still plenty for the bees, and us, to be concerned about.

You’ve probably heard of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which causes bees to abandon their hives. The EPA has noted that there are a variety of theories as to what causes CCD, including invasive mites, poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in-hive insect or mite control, modification to foraging habitats, and, not surprisingly, bee management stress.

The National Resources Defense Council has said that while the U.S. Department of Agriculture has allotted millions of dollars for research that could determine a definitive cause for CCD, that amount pales in comparison to the potential loss of the $15 billion worth of crops that bees pollinate every year.

They add that, “If we don’t act now to save the honey bee, it might be too late. And no honey bees will mean no more of your favorite fruits and vegetables.”

And they’re not kidding. Check out this list of the dozens of everyday foods that bees pollinate.

So one storm may have passed, but a much bigger catastrophe could be in our future.

Have you read much about Colony Collapse Disorder? Do you have your own theories on what might be behind this phenomenon?

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