18 Oct 2016

Buzz of the Summer Gone

Living in Corsica, one thing I clearly noticed this Summer - the first Summer I have spent on my grandma's property up in the mountains in approx. 25 years - is the scarce number of pollinators compared to 25 years ago. There was no scientific study on my part; I just pitched my remembrance of those bygone Summers vs. 2016, as flawed an indicator as this might be. As a child and teen coming to the island for the Summer holiday with my family, we would come across a healthy number of bees, wasps, bumble bees, butterflies and other winged creatures in our surroundings, without looking for them. The place was literally buzzing!


Sometimes you would get half a dozen wasps joining us for lunch (a hazardous gatecrashing that would meet its comeuppance, let us it be known!), and you had pollinators and all means of flying insects buzzing around us when we were relaxing on the terrace. Admittedly we had natural pollinator magnets close by, namely a huge bougainvillea and a lush peach tree (now both gone), but even if you ventured outside of the confines of grandma's property, you would come across pollinators without looking for them.

Summer 2016, my first Summer back in the old family holiday house after about 25 years, I was really able to gauge the stark difference in population numbers. What struck me most was the scarcity of honey bees - and alarmingly every single one of them I spotted on the terrace (a paltry dozen in the space of four months), were either dead or dying! Night-time wasn't faring better, as the moths I came across were few and far between compared to 25 years ago! The moths were also very small (the length of a thumbnail) for the vast majority (90%), and rather bland in colour (plain taupe or light grey) and insignificant in looks. What happened to those flamboyant, geometrical moths of my childhood?



WHY THE DECLINE?

Pollinators worldwide are in serious trouble, and I am able to witness it firsthand on my tiny isle without any scientific measurement systems. Pesticides, insecticides (including the notorious neonicotinoids), herbicides and other agribusiness by-products from intensive farming are directly responsible for pollinator decline. In addition to pollution, you have other factors like degraded natural habitats of meadows, prairies, pastures and marshes, the systematic mowing of road verges - underrated buffer zones that act like mini-ecosystems and whose wildflowers (if any left) play a role in feeding pollinators. In the last 25 years, the earth population has increased by 2 billion people, and the galloping demographics coupled to our consumerist ways are tipping the earth's ecology to the point of no return.

"This much is clear: we ignore bees at our own peril. What happens to them will eventually happen to us." - Joel Sartore, photographer, National Geographic

Here in Corsica, the local environmental agencies implement the insecticide-spraying of our resort towns, shorelines and wetlands a couple of times every Summer, late afternoon, supposedly to kill off mosquitoes, but the controversial insecticides are harmful to bees, moths and butterflies. Of course the agencies will not admit to it, while the islanders tend not to question the controversial ecological agenda that is being played out on different levels by the government and corporate interests, leaving our wildlife at the mercy of uncertainty and unsafety.

Queen Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, Madison, Wisconsin by Clay Bolt Nature Photography


THE CASE FOR THE RUSTY-PATCHED BUMBLE BEE

Across the Atlantic, award-winning natural history and conservation photographer Clay Bolt - a bee enthusiast - took matters in his own hands when he found out about the near-disappearance of the rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis), a native northeastern bumble bee whose very existence, on top of the dangers listed in our above section, has been further compromised by commercially-reared bees imported from Europe (and used for the pollination of greenhouse crops) which infected the rusty-patched bumble bee with fungal pathogens when coming into contact. The sharp decline of the bumble bee is staggering: 90% of its historic range since the mid-1990s!

Female Worker, Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, Madison, Wisconsin by ibid.

Clay set out to document the fate of the rusty-patched bumble bee, not only by way of investigation but also by raising awareness. He joined forces with The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation on their petition to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Environmental Protection Agency in order to save the bumble bee, first by getting it listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Meanwhile his 19-minute documentary, A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, is reaping nationwide and international recognition, having been shortlisted by four film festivals. The best award it garnered though was for the USFWS to finally agree (3 years 8 months after the petition was launched) to propose ESA protection to the rusty-patched!

The Xerces Society

"Pollinators are critical components of our environment and essential to our food security—providing the indispensable service of pollination to more than 85 percent of flowering plants and contributing to one in three bites of the food that we eat. Bumble bees are among the most widely recognized and well understood group of native pollinators in North America and contribute to the pollination of food crops such as squash, melon, blueberry, cranberry, clover, greenhouse tomato and greenhouse pepper, as well as numerous wildflowers." - The Xerces Society


FULL-BLOWN MECHANICALLY-CONTROLLED DARWINISM?

Some might argue that federal protection is too little too late, and that the USFWS and EPA are part of the problem they created in the first place - I agree. On his journey, Clay came to question whether saving one species rather than another made any sense. You cannot just save the one species by disregarding the wider environment because all species are interconnected. If one species is endangered, it is as a result of imbalance in the environment that is also impacting other species. Only a holistic approach can save the world, yet at this point we are too far gone down the path of ecological destruction for a holistic approach to be made possible. We humans are the problem to the decline and disappearance of fauna (and flora).

Male Rusty-patched Bumble Bee resting on Joe Pye Weed, Madison, Wisconsin by ibid.

So what can be done when our world has become what I would describe as full-blown mechanically-controlled Darwinism? How do we disentangle our economic models from the exploitation of nature's resources? How do we reverse the changes and grant nature its power back? If we cannot stop the process, does it mean we should just give up? No. What we can do is salvage what we can, review our consumer habits in order to slow down the process that way. Sounds lackadaisy but indeed all we are left with is damage control. Individually we can take matters in our own hands like Clay did, and it is up to us how we choose to do it. We can, for instance, make our garden, terrace or balcony pollinator-friendly. Go organic and encourage others to do so, shun pesticides and anything GMO-based. 

A Ghost In The Making: Searching for the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee 
from Day's Edge Productions on Vimeo.

Further Resources:

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Hey, thanks for your kind words. You have a lovely shop by the way; vintage is the bee's knees! ;-)

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