About a quarter of Kangaroo Island’s beehives may have been lost in bushfires that devastated the western half of the island.
- About 1,000 of Kangaroo Island’s beehives could have been lost in bushfires
- The honey has a unique taste because the island’s bees mainly feast on native flowers
- Bees cannot be brought onto the island to repopulate due to quarantine
The island is home to the world’s purest strain of Ligurian honey bees, which originally came from Italy.
Apiary Alliance SA chairman Danny LeFeuvre said Kangaroo Island was a “bee utopia” because they mostly fed on native flora and were free of most diseases.
He estimated about 1,000 of the island’s 4,000 hives were damaged in the fire, which burnt most fiercely on Friday.
South Australia’s beekeeping industry has more than 60,000 hives.
“It’s not a large proportion of the industry, but it’s certainly a vital and very important part of our industry,” Mr LeFeuvre said.
“There’s always something flowering and bees did really well.”
He said bees would normally huddle in their hive during a fire as the temperature rose.
Most hives are made of timber; beeswax is also highly flammable.
Consumers are unlikely to see a spike in honey prices because of the damage, but Mr LeFeuvre said many people sought out Kangaroo Island for its unique taste coming from the bees’ diet of mostly native flowers.
“We’re going to see a downturn in honey production come off the island,” he said.
“Absolutely we’d encourage any consumer if they see Kangaroo Island honey to definitely buy it.”
“Hopefully that can be passed or driven back to the farm gate and drive some profitability for the beekeepers on Kangaroo Island.”
Devastating losses for apiarists
Peter Davis’s Kangaroo Island beekeeping business was ravaged by the fire.
He lost up to 400 of his 1,000 beehives.
His son’s house burnt down, and in it 600 kilograms of honey turned into a sticky pool on the ground.
Some of Mr Davis’s hives are still under threat from fire.
“We have a community spirit here on Kangaroo Island that is not burnable,” he said.
“It hurts. It hurts to see this and I don’t want anyone to go through this again — but I will be here helping them.”
But even those that have survived are facing a dire future and may not be able to produce honey.
“If we can’t get them onto a resource where there’s flowers, nectar and pollen, the queens will stop breeding and they’ll just decline in numbers,” Mr Davis said.
Bees and honey are not allowed to be brought onto the quarantined island, in order to protect the Ligurian strain.
Another 400 hives were lost in last month’s Cudlee Creek fire, along with up to 600 at Padthaway.
Most of the state’s bees are currently in the South-East.