6 Things You Didn’t Know About Bees in Greece

The 300-plus days of sunshine, varied landscape and 7,400 varieties of plants make Greece a fertile place for honeybees. With such immediate concern for honeybees in many parts of the world, colony collapse disorder is still being called into question in Greece.

is a problem in the United States and some European countries like Germany and Spain… We don’t have this problem in Greece yet,” claims Paschalis Harizanis, professor at the Agricultural University of Athens.

is a problem in the United States and some European countries like Germany and Spain… We don’t have this problem in Greece yet,” says Paschalis Harizanis, professor at the Agricultural University of Athens.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-04-life-sweet-beekeepers-greece.html#jCp
style=”position: absolute; left: -99999px;”>” is a problem in the United States and some European countries like Germany and Spain… We don’t have this problem in Greece yet,” says Paschalis Harizanis, professor at the Agricultural University of Athens.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-04-life-sweet-beekeepers-greece.html#jCp

is a problem in the United States and some European countries like Germany and Spain… We don’t have this problem in Greece yet,” says Paschalis Harizanis, professor at the Agricultural University of Athens.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-04-life-sweet-beekeepers-greece.html#jCGreece asserts that honeybees  contrast to the United Sates, where bees have buckled and died due to colony collapse disorder.

As an activist in service to the honeybees and the director of the documentary Vanishing of the Bees, narrated by Ellen Page, I decided to investigate firsthand the history and environmental state of bees in Greece.

“Honey Is Offered To All Gods”

Apiculture in Greece dates back to antiquity and is part of the country’s legacy. In the ancient city of Knossos, a sign reads: “Pasi Theis Meli– Honey Is Offered to All Gods.” Honeybees were so revered that they were even etched on Greek coins and used as currency.

In 322 B.C, Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and scientist, was the first person to study bees. And it is said that Pythagoras and his followers used honey as their main source of food. Meanwhile Melikraton, a thick mixture of milk and honey mentioned in the Odyssey, was a sacred drink imbibed on special occasions.

And in Delphi, the Priestesses of the Oracle sat near an ‘‎omphalos’ stone, which looked like a beehive. Legend asserts that the second temple at Delphi was constructed entirely by bees.

Nowadays, the golden liquid flows in abundance in Greece. All Greek honey is, by default, GMO-free, given that genetically modified crops are prohibited.

Palm Damage of Olympic Proportions

It’s 2004 and Athens is hosting the summer Olympics. In preparation, exotic Canary palm trees from North Africa are imported. Unfortunately, the red palm weevil, an insect that slowly munches on the palm until it kills its host, hitches a ride as well. By 2006, the red palm weevil has infested palm trees across the nation, from Crete to Rhodes to Attica and beyond.

“As a result, many hotels and municipalities went mad and started spraying chemicals at will, including neonics,” says Dr. Sofia Gounari, associate researcher and apiculturist at the Institute of Mediterranean Forest Ecosystems in Athens. Eventually, all the trees died, including many of the indigenous palm trees like the endangered Cretan Palm.

The neonicotinoids also caused huge bee losses, especially to honey producers in the region of Attica. Local beekeepers lost around 50 percent of their bees.

delphiAbandoned bee hives in Delphi. Photo Credit: Jan Wellmann

Greece Says “Oxi” To Neonics Ban

It’s 2012, and based on an assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Commission decides to temporarily restrict the use of three neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam, which are considered harmful to bee health. Greece is one of the eight states that votes against this ban.

“Undoubtedly, the decision had to do with dollar bills and keeping the pharmaceutical companies happy,” says Gounari.

Based on the results of more than 1,000 international studies, scientists with the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides have concluded that neonics are a major factor in bee mortality. The pesticides disorient the bees, making it more difficult for these flying insects to navigate, forage for pollen and reproduce in the hives.

In the end, a two-year ban was instated for the treatment of seeds, soil (granules) and foliar applications on corn, cotton, sunflower and rapeseed, but not including individual use in gardens and orchards (e.g. oranges). It expired in December of 2014.

Many groups are hoping to renew the ban, this time attempting to restrict all six systemic pesticides rather than the aforementioned three.

Beekeeping is in Vogue

Greece has an estimated 25,000 beekeepers; about 1,500 of them make their living solely from the trade, while about 85 percent use it to supplement their income. Meanwhile, about 7,000 beekeepers own more than 150 hives.

According to Gounari, there’s also been a wave of young adults taking up the profession because they’ve falsely been told they can make quick money. She warns, “Beekeeping is not easy and it’s not for everyone. Money is not a reason to become a beekeeper.”

Beekeeping is indeed a challenging task. In Greece, beekeepers have to move their hives four to six times a year following the nectar or honeydew flow, and the harvests average 12-15 kilos, nothing near the 30-40 kilos in other European countries.

To CCD or Not To CCD?

Systemic pesticides, especially Gaucho (imidacloprid), have been used in Greece mainly on cotton, sunflower and oranges for the past five or six years. While varroa destructor, a parasitic mite that attacks honey bees, is certainly an issue, many contend that nicotine-based pesticides are the main problem, compromising the bees’ immune system so that they cannot fend for themselves.

“Now, with the advent of neonics, the losses have increased considerably,” explains biologist and researcher Dr. Fani Hatjina.

Most Greeks are quick to put the blame on beekeepers. However, together with others researchers, Hatjina has concluded that imidacloprid, in sub-lethal doses, has a significant detrimental effect in different aspects of bees’ physiology, behavior and health.

Hatjina has also gotten increased reports of colonies disappearing and the lifespans of queen bees dropping to as low as two weeks instead of two to three years, and these events are increasing year after year. Her studies show that when bees in contact with neonics, are more vulnerable to diseases such as Nosema and AFB.

Bee My Friend

During the last 10 years, official Greek beekeeping seminars have proven very helpful in passing new knowledge and methodology to the beekeepers, says Hatjina.

Meanwhile, organizations like OMSE, the Division of Apiculture in Chalkidiki, and Greenpeace Greece are actively linking farmers with beekeepers to teach them about the detrimental effects of neonics and the importance of honeybees. But unfortunately, many farmers are not so sympathetic to the cause.

It seems that Greek people have a crucial place in the CCD puzzle. Will the country befriend the bee? We’ll have to wait and see.

Photo Credit: Jan Wellmann

69 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen3 years ago

Thank you

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Jen B.
Jen B3 years ago

thx

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Jennifer Manzi
Jennifer Manzi3 years ago

thanks 4 sharin

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

Awesome!

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran3 years ago

i want to keep bees just to pollinate and have a good time (and to donate a spot of fresh honey now and then) in the garden i will one day have!

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Barb Hansen
Ba H3 years ago

thx

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Angela AWAY
Angela K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Justin M.
Justin M3 years ago

Thanks

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