Bee team: How hives at Canberra Airport are our biosecurity frontline
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Bee team: How hives at Canberra Airport are our biosecurity frontline

There are a few unwitting souls on the frontline of the bush capital's biosecurity at Canberra Airport that you might not have met.

Canberra's biosecurity teams have bee hives that act similar to canaries in a mine for the capital's European honey bee population.

ACT Government Biosecurity Vet Kyeelee Driver at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands

ACT Government Biosecurity Vet Kyeelee Driver at the Jerrabomberra WetlandsCredit:Lawrence Atkins

These 'sentinel hives' will be the first to catch any pests from the airport, giving biosecurity experts time to control them before they spread.

On a wet Wednesday in the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, the ACT's biosecurity veterinarian Kyeelee Driver and Beekeepers Association ACT training manager John Grubb helped train Canberra's biosecurity agents to handle these frontline workers.

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"They're primarily there to be the first line of detection for varroa mite," Mr Grubb said.

The varroa mite is a small parasite that feeds on both adult bees and larvae in a bee colony.

"Left uncontrolled it could destroy a colony," Mr Grubb said.

The varroa mite could also force Australia's chemical free honey industry to start using chemicals to contain their population.

According to the ACT's environments directorate, Australia is one of the top ten honey producing countries in the world with over 1100 hives registered in the ACT.

ACT biosecurity veterinarian Kyeelee Driver said that meant Australia couldn't sell their honey as chemical free and would mean huge costs for the industry to maintain the mite population.

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"But it's also to be able to say to our trade partners, 'Hey, we're actually free of them'," Ms Driver said.

She also said the hives at Canberra Airport were also monitored for other bee species, like the Asian honey bee or giant honey bee, which carry pests and diseases.

"We're trying to build up the capacity in the ACT government to be able to respond to a biosecurity incident with respect to bees," Ms Driver said.

Mr Grubb said bees were important to Australia's agricultural industry, pollinating 60 per cent of the country's crops.

This included canola, almond and carrot plants.

Ms Driver said it was also important for the Canberra region's amateur beekeepers to check their hives and keep an eye out for pests like the varroa mite or the bee species which can carry them.

Unfortunately for the bees and beekeepers, Wednesday's heavy rain forced class inside with the bees preferring the comfort of their hives to the wild weather.