*iStock photo
*iStock photo

Bermudian bees are dying – a fact that bodes ill for plant and marine life in and around the island, according to local scientists, beekeepers and environmentalists.

Tommy Sinclair, a beekeeper here in Bermuda, recently articulated the problem: in 2008, there were 350 beehives on the island. Now there are around 125.

“That’s a big drop,” said Mr. Sinclair this afternoon at a so-called “Bee Fair” titled “Keep Bermuda Buzzing” held at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute

The event was organized as an educational forum that featured bee experts such as Mr. Sinclair answering questions about the buzzing insects throughout the day. Chief among the inquires: why should we care about a drop in the bee population?

“Bees pollinate indirectly or directly one third of what we eat,” said Mr. Sinclair

“If you enjoy the food you eat right now, your diet would be a lot different without bees.”

That includes melons, berries, apples and pumpkins. Even the feed given to animals that provide much of the meat consumers eat, are pollinated by bees, he said.

What’s causing the drop in bees? That’s where the scientific community disagrees.

“Leading scientists don’t have all the answers,” said Clair Jessey, a  plant protection officer with the Department of Environmental Protection. “They can’t find the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.”

There are plenty of theories. Some say it’s pesticides. Others blame cell phone towers. Yet others say a pest called the varroa mite is wiping out bees. Another theory asserts that diseases are responsible for the decline.

Mr. Sinclair, for one, thinks it’s a confluence of those factors.

“What I think it is personally, it’s probably a combination of all these things. Bees are able to survive when one or two of these things happen, but when all of them come together, it’s like the perfect storm,” he said.

The varroa mite, said Mr. Sinclair, was first discovered on Bermudian soil in 2010 and corresponds with the noticeable dip in the bee population.

“It’s is the most destructive pest in the beekeeping world. It feeds on the blood of the bee,” he said. “It’s also a vector for different diseases. Some of the viruses that are spread are just as deadly as the feeding itself.”

Others, like Kim Smith of BEST, point to pesticides as the main part of the problem.

“The bees aren’t getting the type of nutrition they need. It’s a systemic pesticide. It goes into the plant and comes out with the pollen and the nectar. People who sell pesticides don’t want you to tag it to pesticides. But because of the pesticides, the bees become more vulnerable to the mites and viruses. It’s a vicious cycle,” she said.

If the pesticides are partially responsible for the drop in the local bee population, then it is likely also harming marine life around the island, said Dr. Thaddeus Murdoch, a Bermudian marine ecologist.

“If the pesticides pose a problem with the bees then it’s inevitable it’s going to get into the water and cause a lot of problems and no one is monitoring that,” said Dr. Murdoch.