Puerto Rico has a significant advantage over states when it comes to beekeeping. In the States, bees’ travel cannot be controlled enough by their keepers to allow any beekeeper to claim that they make organic honey. Bees may be visiting flowers which are not grown organically.
U.S. mainland beekeepers, for the same reason, cannot credibly claim that their honey comes from any particular flower. In Puerto Rico, bees have more limited opportunities, which allows Puerto Rican beekeepers to provide special kinds of honey.
Before and after Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria knocked out 80% of the Island’s bees, but the population is swelling now. Numbers of bees are higher than expected.
The honey industry is set to bounce back.
The bees in Puerto Rico are descended from Africanized bees, a different species from the American Honeybee. These bees are less susceptible to Colony Collapse Disorder, a syndrome which has been threatening European Honeybees for more than a decade. Contributed to by the use of pesticides and an increase in mites, Colony Collapse Disorder is a serious problem for U.S. beekeepers in general.
Africanized bees are highly productive and more robust in health than European bees. However, they are also usually aggressive. They chase intruders and have earned the nickname “killer bees.”
Fortunately, the Puerto Rican descendants of these bees are mild mannered, not aggressive. Researchers have not been successful in breeding aggressiveness out of Africanized bees, but the bees of Puerto Rico have naturally developed a laid-back disposition. They still have the resistance to mites and the high productivity of Africanized bees, but they are not killers.
According to Mother Jones, researchers at the University of Puerto Rico see an opportunity to supply stateside beekeepers with queens who will bring their valuable genetic material to hives in the States. The result could be a solution to Colony Collapse Disorder.
It could also help Puerto Rico economically. “This is something to diversify the beekeeping industry and create opportunity for developing new business,” a local beekeeper said.
This idea was popular before the hurricanes, and the rebound in the Island’s bee population has revived it.
Save the bees
TainaSoy Apiary has received a grant to help educate people about bees and to continue working to rebuild bee populations in Puerto Rico.
It is possible to buy Puerto Rican honey online, including from the Big Bee Count page, which donates income from sales to bee projects. However, Puerto Rican honey is currently still in short supply. As the local bee population rebuilds, the beekeeping industry may provide economic growth for the Island.