Honey bees in jeopardy

There is nothing sweet about the situation facing Cayman’s honey bees.

Severe weather events, plant diseases and pests have combined to reduce the bee population to a fraction of what it used to be, said beekeeper Otto Watler.

Mr. Watler, who is a provider of honey products, said Hurricane Ivan destroyed 90 per cent of the bees and their habitats when it passed close to Grand Cayman in September 2004.

‘That set the business back a whole lot and I had to restart from scratch.’

Mr. Watler said he had to replace thousands of dollars in equipment lost during Hurricane Ivan.

‘We were picking up a little bit after that, but it has been a slow recovery process,’ he said.

The process of getting the honey production back to where it was faced further challenges in 2008, with the passing of Hurricanes Gustav and Paloma.

Mr. Watler said he knows his honey production will not be as much as before. A lack of pollen for the bees to collect is the biggest problem.

‘That is the grave position the bee population is in at the present time,’ he said.

‘In 2004, so many honey-producing trees were destroyed by Hurricane Ivan…’ he said. ‘These were trees that take a long time to grow and will take years to come back.

‘Another critical aspect affecting the bee population are diseases like the mealy bug and other pests, which kill trees and plants that bees use to get pollen. This is also not a very good sign,’ said Mr. Walter.

Before Hurricane Ivan nearly wiped out his bee population, Mr. Watler said honey production was the strongest it had ever been and he was harvesting close to 15 fifty-five gallon drums a year, which he considered a good amount for Cayman.

‘Local honey is in very high demand and the supermarkets are willing to purchase the supply,’ he said.

Prior to Hurricane Ivan hit, Mr. Watler said he managed to save about two barrels from a stock of 13 barrels before the hives were destroyed. A couple of months ago he said they only harvested a very small amount.

‘Even though these are major setbacks we are still ploughing on and will continue to work with what we have until things look better,’ he said.

‘How long it will continue like this, I do not know. I am not pleased at the situation as it stands, but I am not giving up.’