Future

The Island Of Happy Bees

On the Canadian island of Newfoundland, bees don't get sick or sting. Researchers want to spread this buzzing paradise, and get some organic honey in the process.

(blondyimp)
Bernadette Calonego

Canadian bee expert Geoffrey Williams knows what a bee wonderland looks like. It is a place where swarms of honey bees live peacefully, are stress-free and healthy -- and almost never sting. It is a virtual bee paradise.

These perfect conditions exist on the island of Newfoundland, in eastern Canada. Williams wants it to stay that way, and that is the reason why he has travelled to Switzerland, where he is currently based in Liebefeld near Bern at the Swiss Bee Research Center. Thanks to the state-run agricultural research organisation Agroscope, he is studying the threats and diseases bees are often exposed to -- and figuring out how to prevent them from ever reaching Newfoundland.

Both Swiss and Newfoundland bees belong to the same genus of European honey bee (Apis mellifera), which are remarkably friendly. "I've been here three months now and I've never been stung," says 28-year-old Williams, who spent four years researching at Dalhousie University in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. He had quite a different experience while in Arizona, where he was once stung by some 50 killer bees in just 20 minutes.

In the United States, the bee population is in turmoil. Last winter about a third of all US bees were wiped out by parasites, viruses and other diseases. One such parasite is the small hive beetle, whose larvae damage the honeycomb when they eat their way through it. The adult insect then mimics a bee and teaches other bees to feed it with honey. In Canada, the beetle has only been detected in one small area. The island of Newfoundland has, like Switzerland, so far been spared a small hive beetle infestation.

The Deadly Varroa Mite

But unlike Newfoundland, Switzerland is home to bees' most infamous nemesis, the varroa mite, Latin for "destructor mite."

"It's a completely one-off case that this mite hasn't been found in Newfoundland," says Geoffrey Williams. "There are two reasons for this. Newfoundland is geographically isolated, and there are also very strict rules regulating bee imports and quarantine procedures."

In Switzerland, the Nosema ceranae parasite has also caused much damage, by attacking the bees' stomach, causing diarrhea and death. In Spain these parasites have been responsible for the destruction of countless bee colonies. In the US, experts have recently traced the so-called "colony collapse disorder" back to the parasite.

Beekeepers in Newfoundland must remain vigilant, even if the island is free of the most dangerous threats to bee populations. And Canadian bee researchers have to know their enemy before they can fight against it. In Liebefeld Geoffrey Williams has been identifying the parasites that pose the greatest threat, and which Newfoundland must develop defenses against. He has been sharing his insights with other Canadian beekeepers.

His findings could also prove useful for Swiss beekeepers. Williams is examining bees for parasites and exploring the interaction between these parasites and pesticides and their potential effects on Swiss bees. Working on a research project sponsored by the Swiss Ricola Foundation, Williams would like to determine the exact amount of chemicals that bees can tolerate, and their best combinations.

Since there are no bee diseases in Newfoundland, there is no need for beekeepers there to use chemicals and the bee population thus remains free of pesticides. But Williams does not believe that importing bees from abroad should be regarded as the primary solution to local problems. "Switzerland shouldn't have to resort to importing bees to maintain the local population," he says. When animals are moved from one country to another, there is always an element of risk involved – diseases can easily be spread in this way.

Stress-Free Honey

There is one other resemblance between Swiss and Newfoundland bees. Compared to other bee populations, they are subject to less stress because they are primarily used to produce honey and are less frequently used to fertilize fields - a process that involves transporting them from one place to another.

In Newfoundland as in Switzerland, the average beekeeper only keeps a few colonies – far fewer than beekeepers in the United States. In Newfoundland, which counts only five breeders and about 150 colonies, only a negligible amount of honey is produced. But that could all change if the Newfoundland became one of the few places in the world able to offer chemical-free, organic honey.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - blondyimp

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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