This May I traveled down to the Puntacana Ecological Foundation on behalf of ABOVE Magazine to do a surreally intimate shoot with Apis mellifera - the European honeybee. Some may say – the last of the honeybees – since over the past four years, over 30 billion have disappeared due to a mysterious phenomenon that scientists are calling, “Colony Collapse Disorder.” The exact cause of pollinator disappearance is not well understood, but it is clear that one of the culprits is unsustainable agricultural production. In sum, we are pushing our little buzzing friends to the limit.
Honeybees, which so often “hibernate” in the winter, are worked all season long – being fed high fructose corn syrup like an IV drip – to get them across the country from pollination spot to pollination spot. This is compounded with pesticide-laden plants in some locales in addition to a diet that consists of one type of pollen at most times, which is not as nutritious as a polyfloral diet (picture Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me McDonald’s experiment – except for bees). Honeybees, by insect standards, already have a weak immune system, and these added levels of stress and poor nutrition easily invite other body invaders, including bacteria and fungus, which in total are causing aworldwide autoimmune collapse.
At ABOVE, we wanted to capture the untold story of the honeybee. Together with a small crew, the kindness and cooperation of Jake Kheel and Rubio at the Puntacana Ecological Foundation, and Director Clayton Haskell, we wove together a story of beauty, hope, and a long-standing symbiosis between human and insect. As always, I feel ABOVE is the first and last magazines on earth that celebrates human’s obsession with true natural beauty and everything we do to (ironically) destroy it. This story is no exception…
In 2006 thousands of commercial migratory beekeepers throughout the world began reporting the worst honeybee die-off in history. Over thirty billion of bees (Apis mellifera L.) in the U.S. mysteriously died. In one season, apiculturists everywhere woke up to their worst nightmare. Pollination – and their livelihoods – was coming to a screeching halt.
In the United States alone, bees as commercial pollinators are valued at $15 billion annually. In the European Union they truck in another $17.4 billion. Worldwide these winged creatures are worth $188 billion per year. Their die-off would create a domino effect overnight: Fifty-two of the 115 leading global food commodities wouldn’t exist; five would face a ≥ 90 percent yield reduction; and 48 would be reduced in size and quantity. Approximately 9.5 percent of the total value of global agricultural production used for human food would disappear in a cloud of smoke. Apples, almonds, citrus, cotton, soybeans, and peanuts are just some of the many foodstuffs that we’d no longer be able to dine on regularly.
Scientists, world governments and citizens alike are seeking an answer to CCD but none has been locked down quite yet. In fact, 2010 is being called the worst year yet for honeybee numbers although early reports show that the mysterious aliment may be waning. If agricultural demand continues to exceed the rapidly depleting global stock of domesticated honeybees, the world will look very different. Let’s just say, if we can’t figure out what the little honeybee is all a’buzz about, the world will become far too bland.