American foulbrood, described by Far North Adult Literacy student Brian Sillick as the Ebola of the bee industry, has not only arrived in the Far North but is running rampant according to FNAL tutor Hine LeLievre.
She and four of her students, who have invested a great deal of time in learning to keep bees, and have gained real expertise in diagnosing infected hives, said earlier this week that no co-ordinated effort was being made to address the problem, and that they feared for the future of the industry.
If the Far North lost its bees, they added, other industries, notably horticulture and pastoral farming, would also be in real trouble.
The students had destroyed seven of their nine hives at Awanui by burning them, and the bees, then burying the remains. Twenty-five hives had also been destroyed at Pukenui, but five abandoned sites were known of in that area.
Abandoning infected hives was a huge part of the problem, they added. Bees would continue to carry the disease to flowers (which would eventually fall to the ground, where the bacteria would infect the soil, and remain viable for 35 years) and to other bees, which would spread it further afield.
Ms LeLievre said student Genesis Mahanga had found the first infected hive, but infection was widespread. Thousands of hives were being set up in the Far North from outside the district, some owners simply walking away from them when they became infected.
"It's the land owner who becomes the real victim," Tony Over said.
"With no bees there's no pollination, and we all know what that means."
The bacteria were all but impossible to kill, he added, and if the problem was not addressed it could be a couple of generations before a bee industry could be re-established.
"The problem is that no one is taking responsibility," but FNAL was prepared to lead the way.
"We will get rid of infected hives, but everyone has to do it," Ms LeLievre said.
"We need to identify abandoned sites too. The trouble is that commercial beekeepers won't transport infected hives with healthy ones, so they just leave them where they are."
Mr Sillick said the aim was to form a co-operative to safeguard the industry.
"We will seek and destroy infected hives, and if necessary identify whether they are infected, to save our honey industry," he said.
"If nothing is done we will all lose the opportunity to keep bees," Ms LeLievre added.
"This is a very contagious disease, and the industry is very fragmented. Something has to be done about that. We can start by helping hobbyists, who might not know what to look for."
Mr Sillick warned that the situation was potentially catastrophic.
"We have to nip this in the bud. We need a central depot, and that's what we are offering (at FNAL, Blencowe Street Kaitaia).
"This is the bee equivalent of Ebola, way worse than varroa," he said.