Where All the Island Flowers Gone?

June 1st, 2008
by Alfonso Ebanks

[private] v6-6-alfonso-flWhile watching a worker repair my boat I commented that the sanding of the fiberglass produced a strange smell. The worker commented that it must smell like food to some insects because he can remember that whenever he sanded many bees were attracted to the smell. He went on to say that the bees never show up anymore and I made a mental note to ask around about this insect. What I found out was astonishing: We have no bees left on Guanaja.

The importance of bees was brought home to me many years ago. I was spending some time on one of the Cays in the Vivarios chain and went about planting a few dozen pumpkin seeds I had brought with me. In a short time the seeds sprouted into many green vines that soon covered almost half of the cay. The vines produced a lot of showy yellow-orange flowers that thrived awhile, then fell off the vine. The vines produced only a few pumpkins.

I was about to destroy the plant when someone mentioned that the vine could not produce well because there were no bees on the Cay. He said that the few which did not fall off had been pollinated by some other insects, probably ants. The person who gave me this information had been a farmer and knew all about pollination and such things. The transplanted farmer then told us that we could pollinate the pumpkin vines by hand. Early the next morning everybody went about pollinating flowers by hand and soon we had hundreds of beautiful pumpkins.

As far as everybody can remember, the bees disappeared from Guanaja after Hurricane Mitch. Likely the unbelievably high winds must have destroyed all the bee hives and the trees that housed them. The few bees that might have survived would have starved to death because of the lack of flowers to feed on.

There were two or three species of bees on Bonacco: The European honey bee was the most important because of its proliferation; in smaller numbers was the native bee that built tiny hives in hollow tree trunks and limbs; and finally a moth-like bee of mostly pink and/or white color believed to be a solitary insect inhabited the island.

The bees are but one of the things that we are missing. We lost fruit and fruit trees, loke monkey caps, custard apples, sweet cups, wild locust, stinking toe, Cuban balls, huge white mangroves and the pullock (balsa wood) trees. The red mangroves are making a comeback in some areas, thanks to a replanting program by some organizations. The fauna has also suffered losses in the last decades: The green iguana has been over hunted, as has the cay iguana. The same fate met the wishywillie and the higgy-tee (jicotea), typically not eaten by islanders but by some of our island guests.

Because of Hurricane Mitch and because of a ban on hunting we have had an increase in the island rabbit (red rump agility) and white head pigeon populations. Our island parrot is still in danger of extinction. In the ocean we can no longer find beds of long spine sea eggs (sea urchins) or the round sea eggs with short white spines. Some of the fish that feed on the sea eggs like the old wife (queen trigger fish) are also a strange sight. Fish like the docta (surgeon fish) and the striped pilot fish are not as plentiful around our docks as they used to be. The jewlala, the pennymaw (painted snail) and the gallumbow (parrot fish) are things of the past. Maybe it is time for some learned persons to try to find out what is happening to our island, because maybe the disappearances of these species is just a portent of things to come-like the death and the bleaching of our one possession, the coral reefs. [/private]

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