Coal mine canary is dying

Bees on a hiveIn a bygone era coal miners would carry a canary. If lethal carbon monoxide or methane gas was present, the canary would fall off the perch. Dead.

The poor canaries warned the miners to get out quickly. They were the advance warning system.The canary in a coal mine has become an astute metaphor for life.

It could be suggested that, globally, humble insects are humanity’s contemporary canaries in our collective environment.

The latest research would suggest that insects are in trouble.

When scientists examined a range of research studies across the world they found that, on average, 41% of known insect species are in decline. The global population of insects is falling. It’s not just one factor alone. It is cumulative influences. Impacts of change felt over time. Habitat loss, overuse of pesticides, extreme climate variables all contributing to the dramatic decline of insect species.

Contemplate a world without insects. As pollinators they play a critical role in our ecosystem. They recycle nutrients. They are essential elements within the food chain. They underpin the ecological web of life.

When insects disappear, birds, mammals, reptiles don’t have any food. These species then become the next potential candidates for ecological extinction.

The canary is calling. Insects are declining. This is a wakeup call for humanity.

Remarkably, one in every three mouthfuls of food we consume benefits from pollination by a humble little honey bee. Imagine almond trees without nuts, a blueberry bush with no blueberries or a pumpkin vine with no pumpkins. All these crops need insect pollinators.

Locally, Australia is one of the top 10 honey producing countries in the world. It’s an incredibly valuable, versatile natural commodity.

Globally Australia is one of the few places free of the devastating honey bee pest, the Varroa mite. Our honey bee industry, our food crop production simply relies on these bees. This would all be at risk if the Varroa mite was to gain an ecological foothold upon these shores.

We need to remain vigilant.

A Code of Practice for Beekeeping in the bush capital helps local apiarists to nurture our local honey bees, helping securing their ecological future. It outlines how to care for and keep honey bees, thus providing useful information for amateur backyard beekeepers. It’s also important to register as a beekeeper so we can keep in touch with advice about threats.

Working in collaboration with the ACT Beekeepers’ Association we have provided facilities at Jerrabomberra Wetlands to run training programs for would-be beekeepers. Bee keeping is such a natural part of life in our beautiful bush capital.

If you would like to play an active role in cultivating ecological hope for humanity visit Bees - Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate - Environment

Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks Conservation Service.

Brett Mac

Brett McNamara - Regional Manager with ACT Parks & Conservation Service

Brett loves our national parks almost as much as the Gang-gang on his uniform. He is prone to using the word 'majestic' when referring to the bush capital. He loves talking. A lot. His favourite animal is the playful platypus.

Article also appeared on 26 February 2019 in The Chronicle