After volcano eruption, honeybees returned to San Sebastián

Written by M.A. Casas, CNN

Honeybees have been freed in San Sebastián, Spain, after hives buried under volcanic ash were salvaged by machine and milked by humans.

The honeybee colony was rescued thanks to some creative tree cover, in addition to a recent natural disaster.

After the Canary Islands’ Almanzora volcano erupted on March 19, some of the honeybee hives were dug up and moved to a nearby park in a city devastated by one of Spain’s most deadly storms, which struck in March.

Aerial view of the Almanzora volcano on the Canary Islands, known as Playa Del Carmen, on March 21, 2018. The Canary Islands government said it was monitoring the volcano, which it hadn’t detected the remote probability of an eruption since February 2011. The Canary Islands’ Almanzora volcano erupted on March 19, 2018, a year after another relatively minor eruption (STF-02). Credit: Michele Limberg / HO/AFP/Getty Images

How does a community collect honeybee hives under ash?

“It’s by accident really,” Evario Lopez Pedraglio, president of the San Sebastián umbrella group representing the local botanical and tourist industry, told CNN.

Lopez Pedraglio explained that after the group made contact with one of the botanical parks, both decided to go ahead with relocating the hives as nature afforded a spot to nest.

“In that case, some branches of a kind of ficus, which was there before the eruption, offered us a little bit of a miracle: They didn’t start showing any risk of burning and fungus. In the case of the ficus, we knew that it could become a good nest,” he said.

Agemtuba flower near San Sebastián, the Spanish capital and largest city on the Canary Islands, on March 13, 2018. Credit: NANDEL CASTILLO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

A quarantine area was established around the hives and the Botanical Gardens in the city of 15 million were later converted into a “cowarden,” or hive-blessing area, designated to protect the honeybees from the ash, while relying on humans for milk, food and fodder.

“It had to be controlled with a lot of care,” Lopez Pedraglio said. “We didn’t know if they would be fed, if they would survive, if they’d be available to receive the nutrients. We wanted to be as clean as possible. So the cleaning of the habitats was very important, to ensure that the environment was safe and these places were clean.

“But somehow the grasses that we had were growing there because they were in season, there was a lot of energy and suddenly the furrows in the grass, the trees were blooming, there was a lot of life,” he added.

A botanical garden, also known as the “cowarden,” where the honeybees’ hives were relocated after being relocated following the Almanzora volcano eruption on March 19, 2018. Credit: Luca Zas, bbc

“It was the calmest, most normal time in our life. We were able to bring in milk, honey and meals that we normally couldn’t.”

(Some images of the untouched honeybee hives on San Sebastián’s botanical gardens shared on the city’s website, however, were likely “an error,” Lopez Pedraglio explained, in the mistaken belief that the hives had all been removed to a secure location in a special quarantine area.)

The Monte Maria botanical gardens, where the honeybees survived for weeks after the Almanzora volcano eruption in late March. Credit: COCIENO CAIT

Local residents took part in three days of public berry picking, which might have attracted the bees, as well as horticultural work. For some of these people, the sweet offering of honeybees is now part of their daily routine.

“We saw it like they were missing: They were free, they were moving, they were flying and they were still very healthy. It was super surprising,” the botanical garden’s marketing manager María del Lluís told CNN.

She said that staff had been inspired by the honeybees’ resilience: “They could survive there for so long, for weeks under the ash and a lot of adults on top. … Those berry collections were extraordinary, extraordinary.”

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