New discovery threatens success of Australian varroa eradication campaign

NSW varroa

Alarm bells are ringing in Australia’s honey industry following discovery of a varroa mite in a beehive at Gumble in the central west of NSW.

Gumble is at least 100 kilometres west from the epi-centre and main locus of Australia’s varroa infestation in and around Newcastle and on the central coast of NSW.

So the spread of varroa mite to Gumble, after more than a year of enormous effort by authorities and beekeepers to contain and eradicate the infestation, is deeply concerning.

There has now been a total of 190 separate varroa infestations confirmed since the outbreak was first discovered outside the Port of Newcastle in April last year.

And that number has jumped nearly 20% since just the start of June this year, at which time the total was some 36 fewer or a total 160 confirmed infested premises.

Despite that reality, government officials and industry representatives are still expressing confidence that eradication of the dreaded bee pest is still technically feasible.

A statement issued by the NSW Department of Primary Industries deputy incident controller, Dr Shannon Mulholland on July 13th said that the response team is still confident it can control the spread of the mite.

“Whilst the discovery of a new mite location is disappointing, it provides further confidence that our tracing and surveillance strategies are working,” Dr Mulholland said.

“Only one mite has been discovered at Gumble and this low mite count suggests we’ve detected the movement early and the fact it was a recent legal movement gives us some confidence we can control this spread quickly.”

Even so the fact is that the eradication zone has recently been spreading further and further south towards Sydney.

And some of what was previously the so-called blue or general emergency zone, within which beekeepers are allowed to move and relocate their hives, has now become part of the red zone, where movement is prohibited.

Indeed the latest detection at Gumble has been identified as a result of a DPI authorised movement of hives from Sackville North, which occurred some 3 months ago.

At the time Sackville North was in the blue zone.

However the steady southward spread of varroa mite discoveries on the central coast, and specifically the recent discovery of infested hives at nearby Glenorie, saw Sackville North initially became part of the purple or surveillance zone.

Subsequent hive inspections in Sackville North then confirmed varroa infestation there. That meant the area was upgraded to a red or euthanization zone, and prompted a review of all the recent authorised hive movements from the area.

So although the official movement permit system enable the tracing activity which led to the Gumble discovery, the confirmation that the spread occurred within the blue zone, inevitably gives rise to some disquieting questions.

After all, the new border of the red zone at Sackville North is uncomfortably close to Sydney’s suburbs. Indeed the border of the purple or surveillance zone is now less than 20kms from the Harbour Bridge.

If the spread of the mite continues into suburban Sydney, it will be almost impossible to stop varroa spreading into the backyard bee hives of the many hundred and perhaps thousands of hives managed by amateur beekeepers in and around the city.

It would make the eradication effort that much more difficult, complex and costly.

Indeed, it would also, very probably, result in an official concession that eradication is no longer technically viable.

That is why both industry and government are, behind the scenes, working on the worst-case scenario of uncontrolled varroa spread at the same time as expressing confidence in the current containment and eradication efforts.

For more information go to

See also the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council reports at

See also the online varroa training course available at TOCAL


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