Thanks to some fast-acting and incredibly dedicated beekeepers, more than 5 million honeybees were saved from the burning hot tarmac in Atlanta last Sunday. The cargo of bees was destined for Alaska but was re-routed without the owner’s knowledge and ended up in Atlanta. Unfortunately, the airline claims there was not enough room in the cargo area for all the bees in Seattle, so the airline flew the bees to Georgia, where they were to be transferred to a larger plane to get to their ultimate destination of Alaska. Nobody planned for the bees to be delayed in Atlanta for an extended time. Sadly, although all the details are unknown at this time, the bees ended up stranded and desperate, dying on the tarmac over three days. Atlanta beekeepers are heroes for their efforts, and without coming together, every bee would have died.
SOS Call for Beekeeper Help
Once the owner figured out the bees had been sent to another destination, as they sat on an 80-degree tarmac for days, the SOS call went out, and beekeepers stepped into action. The Alaska honey business owner sent out a desperate cry for help, reaching a hotline typically used to report bee swarms. The devastating call stirred many bee lovers to act and find a solution to save the bees from what seemed an inevitable demise.
Local Beekeeper First on The Scene
One local beekeeper acted quickly and rushed to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to assess the situation and do what he could to rescue the honeybees. Bee enthusiast Morgan, who lives near Atlanta, is part of the local beekeeper’s association and started it as a hobby, now turned into a passion. Once he got the call, without hesitation, he grabbed his bee vacuum, the boxes to keep the bees, and any other equipment he could get his hands on. It had been days of extreme heat, and Morgan knew bees needed to be kept cool and steady sugar to survive. Without knowing what to expect, Morgan headed to the airport, hoping to help in some capacity.
Devastation Upon Arrival
The site upon Morgan’s arrival was stomach-wrenching. The two hundred packages of bees ordered for the owner’s home business in Alaska en route from Sacramento to Seattle and then on to Anchorage had been diverted and abandoned for too long.
Immediately he was saddened when he saw 800 pounds of bees, divided into wooden frames for traveling, each holding tens of thousands of honeybees. Many bees had already died and were lying in thick piles on the bottom of the wooden boxes. The survivors were clinging to the sides and tops of the boxes. He was heartbroken, as were many in the bee community. Morgan began vacuuming the bees, and some of the packages had no survivors. Morgan gave the sad news that any surviving bees would not be making any long flights in the future. The bee’s fate was decided, and alerts went out to beekeepers near Atlanta for free honeybees that needed homes and intensive care. It showed how local beekeepers, no matter which city, will come together for the better of this vital and special species.
Free Bees for Local Beekeepers
Once it was clear the bees would not survive another trip, the call went out to local beekeepers in Atlanta, offering free bees to anyone that could come and get them as soon as possible. The “free-bee” alert went out, and more than 25 local beekeepers hurried to gather the survivors. Every beekeeper collectively worked together to save as many bees as possible, even though it was a devastating sight for many in the bee community. One local beekeeper collected ten packages of honeybees and several queens in hopes of saving them, but half didn’t survive the trip home.
The airline has apologized to the owner of the bees and claims to have taken measures, so this does not happen again. Due to the extended wait on the tarmac, which is not typically part of the transport of honeybees, they had no climate control and no steady sugar water to keep them alive. About 70 % of those honeybees died in this tragic mistake. The owner of the bees plans to sue Delta for gross misconduct to sort out exactly why they ended up on the tarmac for so long.
In Alaska, housing bees is challenging because they are not native to the area. Getting these little buzzers through a harsh winter takes time, love, and dedication. More than 350 beekeepers in Alaska do their part to keep honeybees coming to the area because they are essential to pollinating the fruit orchards, vegetable harvests, and local nurseries. This event will undoubtedly take a toll, but it has brought the bee community together, and not just between Anchorage and Atlanta. California beekeepers along with other states have agreed to partner with others in the bee community, and the owner is confident that honeybees will keep pollination thriving in Alaska for years to come.