Ask the Beekeeper: Where Have All the Honeybees Gone?

by Claire Morgenstern

Jennifer Sonntag is NRDC’s resident beekeeper. Here she talks about why we need honeybees, the issues they’re facing right now and what it’s like to be a beekeeper in the middle of busy New York City.

1. How did you become interested in beekeeping?

A couple of years ago, I started learning about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) through my work in NRDC’s Membership Department. CCD is a deadly bee blight caused by a toxic mix of pesticides, fungicides and invasive species. CCD has wiped out over a third of commercial colonies annually since 2006. The more I learned about NRDC’s work on CCD and other bee stressors, the more I was intrigued, so when NRDC’s beekeeping role opened up I was eager to try it.

2. What role do bees play in the environment?

Bees are pollinators, responsible for the cross-pollination of many of the most nutritious agricultural crops that we humans eat. Berries, vegetables, almonds and so many other healthy foods we encounter every day in grocery stores and farmers’ markets are directly attributable to the honeybee. We have the bees to thank for every third bite of food we take.


Bees ready to be installed

Photo credit: Matt Cohen

3. What issues are bees facing right now?

CCD is the central problem, and that is largely due to widespread use of pesticides, which are poisonous to bees. In the U.S., the number of managed honeybee colonies has dropped 50 percent since the 1940s. The government will need to ban or strictly regulate these toxins if we are to see the end of bee population collapse. Other issues include lack of adequate flora and the agriculture industry’s overbreeding of honeybees, which weakens their pollinating power.

On the local front, recently Hurricane Sandy decimated most of Brooklyn Grange’s Navy Yard hives, the largest beekeeping operation in NYC. All told, they lost 25 hives — about a million bees. It’s very sad. Somehow, the NRDC hives all survived Sandy — an impressive feat since they’re located on the roof of NRDC’s headquarters, 12 stories above street level, and the wind gusts were so powerful that night.

4. Why do we need to protect bees?

“Do I like my food?” is probably the question you want to ask yourself when considering the honeybee.  If you do, you have a stake in their survival. Without pollinators, humans would be eating grain 24/7. So the honeybee crisis is one important piece of the larger food crisis that NRDC and other groups are working on. It’s critical that we end the use of all bee toxins in order to ensure long-term bee survival.

This holiday season, you can help save honeybees with NRDC Green Gifts! When you give our Queen Bee gift to a loved one, you’ll be helping protect hardworking honeybees from pesticides and other threats. See the full collection of Green Gifts at

Related Stories:

Bees Can Tell a Monet from a Picasso (Can You?)

Why Are Bees Making Blue Honey?

Buzz Off: EPA Denies Beekeeper Pesticide Petition

Photo credit: Matt Howes


Philippa P
Philippa Powers8 months ago


Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Angelus Silesius
Angelus S4 years ago

A case can be made for NOT using bee killers from your local home improvement retailer

Sunny H.
Sunny H4 years ago

Bees are essential to the ongoing health of the ecosystem and a large portion of the food crops we rely on. Beekeepers need to be very conscious about preserving the lives and health of their bees, especially by not taking so much honey the bees don't have enough left for their own survival; in addition to all this not using chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides.

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Without the bees, how come people can get honey?

Sonia Minwer-Barakat Requ
Sonia M4 years ago

I love honeybees and beekeeping and I know all the problems they are facing.It's actually important spread the word.Thanks for the article

Alicia Guevara
Alicia Guevara5 years ago


Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright5 years ago

We should all be alarmed at the decreases in numbers, not only of the honey bees, but the bats as well as all animal species. Humans could not survive without them.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

I saw more bees this year than in the past few years.

I think the lack of bees is due to the use of pesticides. They are sprayed everywhere.