Millions of Alaska-bound honeybees die at Atlanta airport

Bees in a shipping container
The bees had been certain for Anchorage, the place they had been to be shipped to beekeepers throughout the state. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

Hundreds of kilos of honeybees had been set to ship from the Lower 48 to beekeepers throughout Alaska final weekend.

But many of the bees died in transit when the crates carrying them had been left for hours on a scorching tarmac in Atlanta.

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Soldotna beekeeper Sarah McElrea mentioned the loss is devastating. She runs Sarah’s Alaska Honey and likewise teaches lessons and coordinates shipments of bees to beekeepers round Alaska.

On Sunday, she was ready on the Anchorage airport for a cargo of 800 kilos of bees from a distributor in Sacramento, Calif. It was the primary of two shipments that she had ordered on behalf of greater than 300 Alaskan beekeepers.

“We had a load that was going to Fairbanks, and then we had somebody else that was going to distribute from Wasilla to Talkeetna,” she mentioned. “And then we were going to do Anchorage and the Valley. And then our second one would’ve come in the following day and we would’ve taken that one back down to the peninsula to fulfill the rest of our orders.”

But the plan hit a snag when the bees had been pushed from the unique Delta flight. Instead, the airline rerouted them to Atlanta, the place they had been imagined to catch a direct flight to Anchorage.

When they didn’t make that flight, McElrea actually began to fret. Honeybees don’t do properly in excessive warmth. McElrea requested that the bees be put in a cooler.

But the subsequent day, the airline instructed her some bees had escaped from their crates and so Delta put them outdoors.

“I really panicked when they found they had moved them outside because the pheromones that those honeybees emit are attractive to other honeybees that are native to the area,” she mentioned.

Sure sufficient, outdoors bees gathered across the crate, so it seemed like extra bees had been escaping.

McElrea mentioned Delta refused to place the cargo on the airplane. So, she turned to the web for assist.

“I got on Facebook and made a quick post to a page that is based in Georgia,” she mentioned.

That’s how she linked with Atlanta beekeeper Edward Morgan. He went to the airport to have a look and located many of the bees within the cargo had been already lifeless from the warmth. McElrea mentioned it was 80 levels in Atlanta that day.

The solely factor left to do was to rescue the survivors. Morgan known as in reinforcements to open the crates and save no matter particular person bees had been left.

Gina Galucci with the Georgia Beekeepers Association was one of many dozen-plus volunteers that beelined for the airport. She instructed WABE’s Emily Wu Pearson Sunday that they understood the urgency of the scenario.

“This is a disaster,” Galucci mentioned. “So while we did mobilize very, very quickly, we did that because we know they’re going to die. And so the person who bought these bees is out a whole lot of money. So we’re going to try to help support with some donations toward that.”

people looking at bees
Beekeepers flocked to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport Sunday to examine on the bees and take the survivors house. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

McElrea mentioned these previous couple of days have been a nightmare. She’s scrambling to patch up the mess and hasn’t slept a lot.

She mentioned the beekeeping enterprise has by no means been about cash for her. Still, she mentioned it’s an incalculable loss.

She mentioned her provider in California goes to exchange the cargo, which included $48,000 price of bees. She’s additionally hoping for some type of aid from the airline, although she understands that for a lot of airways, folks ship reside animals at their very own danger.

But she’s grateful for the assist from the Georgia beekeepers. Some took the few survivors again to their very own apiaries.

“I will forever be grateful for anything that they were able to salvage,” she mentioned. “They just assembled quickly and efficiency and really are the heroes in this scenario.”

And whereas that is the primary time she’s skilled such a tragedy, she mentioned it’s not the primary time she’s heard of bees dying in transit.

Distributors know the way a lot meals to place in crates so the bees can journey safely inside an inexpensive timeframe. But that turns into sophisticated when there are delays or cancellations, notably in excessive climates.

McElrea is coordinating with beekeepers in Seattle in order that if there’s an issue with the subsequent cargo, volunteers shall be able to intervene.

Catherine Salm with Delta Airline’s company communications mentioned in an e-mail Tuesday the airline is conscious of the incident and is working to verify one thing related doesn’t occur once more.

“We have been in contact with the customer directly to apologize for the unfortunate situation,” she mentioned.

McElrea needs folks to know they’ll shield these necessary pollinators in their very own backyards. She mentioned gardeners ought to plant pollinator-friendly vegetation and keep away from spraying poisonous chemical substances, like RoundUp. Importantly, they shouldn’t be afraid of honeybees, which solely sting after they’re in peril.

“Being educated about honeybees is the first big step I think everyone should take on that can help them to just have a better understanding of how important they are as far as pollinators,” McElrea mentioned. “And just such a fragile part of our ecosystem that we as humans are completely dependent on for our survival.”

Now, McElrea and different beekeepers from the Kenai Peninsula are ready on the second cargo and the alternative, set to return in later this week.

WABE journalists Matt Pearson and Emily Wu Pearson contributed pictures and interviews from Atlanta.

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