Caribbean Bee Rescue Campaign

By Tom Van Arsdall, Pollinator Partnership

Last fall, Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck many islands in the Caribbean causing catastrophic damage and triggering a major humanitarian crisis. It crippled island infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, including access to electricity, water, and other basic necessities. Agriculture was decimated, too. Cropland, family farms, and food systems were largely destroyed, and nearly $780 million in crop losses have been recorded so far in Puerto Rico.

Today, beekeepers in Puerto Rico, along with the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands, are slowly recovering. Beekeepers throughout the Caribbean are essential to local agriculture and provide important pollination services to specialty crop farmers and others. In addition, they contribute to the local economy through various value-added products ranging from various beeswax products to locally produced mead (honey wine). In Puerto Rico, fewer than 150 beekeepers provide 7% of the honey consumed on the island, and these men and women maintained several thousand hives. From pineapples to coffee to countless fruits and vegetables, honeybees and other pollinators will be key to the recovery of Puerto Rican and Caribbean agriculture.

Pollinator Partnership recent led a campaign made up of private citizens, beekeepers from throughout the United States, industry groups, companies, land-grant universities, and many others to provide emergency assistance to the beekeepers of the Caribbean. The first stage of this relief was to provide essential nutrition to bees in the form of pollen patties and powdered protein. In the continental U.S., beekeepers have access to commercially produced protein sources, but these sources are unavailable in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. With your help, thousands of pounds of emergency bee protein was provided to beekeepers, but the storms also destroyed many of the Langstroth wooden hives used by beekeepers to house their bees and bees that survived the destruction of their hives swarmed, taking up residence in people’s homes, schools, and other structures. The campaign has also provided new hives for many Caribbean beekeepers. To date, almost 1,000 new hives have been shipped to Puerto Rico and these critical supplies have reached beekeepers throughout the island!

Assistance from the Pollinator Partnership Caribbean Bee Rescue campaign will continue in 2018. In addition to providing these emergency materials, the next phases of the campaign will focus on the following:

  • We will continue to work with local beekeepers and teams from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) to help strengthen beekeeping and pollination services in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
  • We will continue to assess the hurricane’s impacts on other pollinating species in the Caribbean to determine how help can be provided.
  • Working with local beekeepers, UPR scientists, officials in Puerto Rico, and beekeepers from the US Virgin Islands, we will determine how additional help can be provided going forward.

When disaster struck the Caribbean’s beekeepers, you and the Pollinator Partnership answered the call. Your support of our efforts gave us the opportunity to offer a much needed boost to the pollinators of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands – and to our fellow Americans throughout the Caribbean. Thanks again for your generosity. Together, we’ll continue to assist the beekeepers of the Caribbean!

Published 5/25/18