By: Lydia Paglierani (in collaboration with Madeleine Wisecup)
Most people are aware that bees are responsible for a large amount of our food growth and that they’re an essential part of our ecosystem, but did you know a single bee can pollinate 300 million flowers a day? 1
Not only that, but bee’s are known to be the only insects that produce a food consumed by humans — honey. 2
Over the past 2,500 years, honey has been used by numerous cultures around the world. Interestingly enough, today, scientists are finding that our ancestors may have been onto something. It turns out that honey, which is known for its antimicrobial properties, may help wounds and burns heal faster. Manuka honey, for example, a honey made in Australia and New Zealand (produced by bees that pollinate the Manuka Bush), has been scientifically proven to be one of the most unique and effective medicinal honeys. This particular honey has an element that isn’t found anywhere else in the world. It acts as an antibacterial that, along with helping to heal wounds and burns, can be used for other medical purposes such as reducing high cholesterol, treating diabetes, cancer, sinus infections/common cold, acne/eczema, etc. 3
Fun fact: Honey comes in many shades. Some are lighter and some are darker. The darker the honey, the more antibacterial and antioxidant power it has. 4
Why it matters
Bees fall into a category called pollinators, alongside hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies, and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another. Worldwide, there are about 25,000 species of bees–and every one of them plays an important role in our ecosystem 5. The many options of food we have available is largely owed to these amazing pollinators.
One out of every three mouthfuls of food in the American diet is, in some way, a product of honeybee pollination—from fruit to nuts to coffee beans.” 6
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, of the 100 crops that account for 90 percent of the food eaten around the globe, 71 rely on bee pollination. 7 Were it not for bees, wildlife would have fewer berries and seeds, and we would be without many fruits, vegetables, and nuts, such as blueberries, squash, almonds, not to forget chocolate and coffee.8 Basically, we depend on honeybees for the food we eat.
And yet, bees are in trouble
Over the past few years, bee’s have been found to be dying-off at rapid rates.
Bee researchers first reported massive die-offs back in the early 2000s. This phenomenon, which today is known as a Colony Collapse Disorder, is a condition which, according to the EPA, “occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen.” 11
The EPA reports that “there have been many theories about the cause of CCD, but the researchers who are leading the effort to find out why are now focused on these factors:
- Increased losses due to the invasive varroa mite (a pest of honey bees).
- New or emerging diseases such as Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema.
- Pesticide poisoning through exposure to pesticides applied to crops or for in-hive insect or mite control.
- Stress bees experience due to management practices such as transportation to multiple locations across the country for providing pollination services.
- Changes to the habitat where bees forage.
Inadequate forage/poor nutrition.
- Potential immune-suppressing stress on bees caused by one or a combination of factors identified above. 12
But not all bee declines can be blamed on CCD. There have been many factors that contribute to colony declines including poor nutrition, increased pressure from ecto- and endoparasites (e.g., tapeworms), bacterial and/or viral loads, pesticide interactions, climate change, habitat destruction, etc. To our chagrin, humans are in part responsible for a majority of these factors, primarily when it comes to pesticides and habitat loss.
Is there a solution?
The short answer is yes. But, it’s obviously not a quick fix.
Improving pollination management could further increase crop yields by about 25%. Pollination management includes managing the soil, water, and pests for the promotion of pollination and, in turn, healthy crops. The implementation of ecological farming entails keeping the ecosystem diverse (versus focused on the mass growth of one crop), restoring soil nutrients with a composting system, avoiding things such as soil loss (from erosion, if possible) as well as the absence of pesticides and other chemicals in any way. 13 With higher crop yields and implementing healthy and sustainable agricultural production of crops, pollinators would be able to contribute significantly to world food security and nutrition. This becomes especially important as our population grows globally. In summary, well-managed farms can provide good habitats for bees, who, in turn, provide pollination services for agricultural production. 14
According to NRDC senior scientist, Jennifer Sass when it comes to protecting honeybee’s, “the thing we can most control is pesticides.”
Chemicals in pesticides are of course created to kill insects. But some systemic varieties—specifically neonicotinoids—are worse for bees than others, states the NRDC website. These pesticides not only hurt bees over a long period of time but have been found to threaten the queen bee thus lowering the colonies productive rates. 15
What YOU can do:
- Plant nectar-bearing flowers for decorative purposes on balconies, terraces, and gardens.
- Use pesticides that do not harm bees.
- Avoid mowing grass during the peak flourishing of plants and mow grass in the evening hours.
- Purchase plants that aren’t pretreated with pesticides.
- Let our lawns grow a bit longer and leave the blooming clover for bees to enjoy.
- Ask your elected officials to pass county and town ordinances to reduce pesticide spraying, and we can urge corporations to stop making and selling neonicotinoids. (You can take action by emailing the EPA and asking EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to save America’s bees and our food supply) 16
It’s easy to lose hope about our bee populations as they are declining each year with the introduction of bacterias, pesticides, and worsening climate change. Though they “bee” little, bees hold much of the weight in not only human’s survival but the survival of all lifeforms. Without them, we would not be able to survive without the nutrients that we receive from the crops they pollinate. Like most environmental issues, the steps mentioned earlier are simple changes you can make to help in the promotion of bee populations and pollination.
Lydia Paglierani is a junior at Bryant University in Rhode Island studying Communication and Marketing. She grew up in a small town called Portsmouth on Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island, surrounded by farms and the ocean. Lydia started to take interest in protecting our planet starting in 6th grade when she joined the Green Club–there she learned how to grow and maintain plants in the school’s greenhouse, as well as the importance of being environmentally friendly. This carried with her throughout middle school and into college, becoming the VP of Project Development for a club called Sustain Us on campus this past fall. Being a more intentional and conscious consumer is one way Lydia hopes to make a difference, giving back to our planet however and whenever she can.
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