Until recently, Australia was the last populated continent in the world to be infected by Varroa destructor. The arrival of Varroa destructor in NSW could have a devastating affect on our honey and pollination dependent industries if not eradicated.
Honey bees play a significant role in the pollination of food crops in Australia – some crops are almost entirely reliant on honey bees for pollination. The Varroa mite, which has crippled bee colonies around the world, and is now threatening the Australian beekeeping industry.
It is estimated that the healthy population of honey bees, and the pollination services they provide could be reduced by 90-100 per cent, with the potential to impact producers of crops such as almonds and apples who rely on the pollination services that bees provide.
It is estimated that one in three mouthfuls of food that Australians consume relies on bee pollination.
The Varroa mite is a tiny mite that attaches itself to honey bees and honey bee brood to the detriment of the honey bee and the honey bee colony. The Varroa mite is also known to transmit viruses amongst honey bees which can cause defects to the honey bee.
The Purple Hive Project is being developed to monitor and detect Varroa mite, to assist bee keepers in reducing the spread of Varroa destructor, allowing them to quarantine infected hives.
The “Purple Hive” is an artificial intelligence device, trained to detect Varroa destructor in real-time. The intention is the Purple Hive will help prevent the spread of Varroa destructor in Australia.
The Purple Hive is a multi-camera system that images bees from the top and bottom as they walk through the hive entrance, which uses an algorithm to observe each individual bee as it looks to determine if Varroa destructor is present.
If Varroa destructor is detected, a real-time alert will be sent to the beekeeper which will allow for the hive to be quarantined to stop the spread.
Currently, beekeepers manually check their hives to see if the Varroa mite is present, this is a painstakingly manual process. The intention of the Purple Hive Project is to help provide a real-time solution for our beekeepers through the use of the Purple Hive.
Surveillance for early detection of Varroa destructor remains crucial to protecting the health of the honey industry and Australian agriculture more broadly.
Whilst the Purple Hive is still in development, the long-term vision is that Purple Hives will be placed at high risk points of entry and close to infected areas around Australia to assist with early detection and monitoring.
The vision is that the Purple Hive Project will help protect Australia from the Varroa mite to try and ensure that the Australian honey industry, as well as honey bee pollination dependent industries, are viable for generations to come.