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Save The Bees: Panhandle Beekeepers Struggling After Hurricane Michael

bee on flower
Toshinhiro Gamo

Hurricane Michael left a devastated Panhandle to pick up the pieces. Industries like timber and agriculture are struggling to rebuild. And another community is asking for help: beekeepers.

“We have about 500 beekeepers who call this area home," said University of Florida professor of entomology Jamie Ellis. "They manage somewhere in the neighborhood of about 50,000 colonies. That’s over 1.2 billion honeybees.” 

Ellis said panhandle beekeepers range from small hobbyists to large commercial operations. And after Hurricane Michael, many are worried about the future of their bees.

“When the storm went through, there was obvious direct destruction to some of their colonies," said Ellis. "But there was also quite a lot of damage done to the foraging sources these bees use. The plants, the trees, etc., were blown down and destroyed.” 

These food sources are what bees need to survive.

The panhandle is home to a special and highly coveted form of honey: Tupelo honey. But without bees, there’s no honey. But honey isn't the only product at risk.

“A lot of these bees are used in the pollination industry where they provide pollination services to the state's and other states’ blueberries, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupes, almonds and other things,” explained Ellis.

The Florida State Beekeepers Association has set up a GoFundMe to raise money. And they’re asking experienced beekeepers to help maintain colonies in the affected area.

“So when the hurricane went through it’s done a lot of damage to the beekeeping industry in this area," said Ellis. "Which is why need to get the word out to find beekeepers help and do what we can to save the bees.”

Shawn Mulcahy is a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU. He graduated from Florida State University in 2019 with majors in public relations and political science. He was previously an intern at WFSU, and worked as an Account Coordinator at RB Oppenheim Associates.