Honeybees to Help Save Okinawan Coral with the “Honey Coral Project”

Scientists at OIST and the nearby Onna Village Office are working together in a new partnership with mutual benefit — using honeybees to protect coral reefs from red soil erosion. The collaboration supports both Onna’s marine conservation efforts and OIST’s honeybee research.

Red soil erosion is one of Okinawa’s biggest problems. When it rains, the soil’s surface gets saturated with water, forming small rivers that carry sediment into the ocean. The resulting sediment can cause devastating coral bleaching events. Honeybees could provide an unusual solution to this problem. Honeybees are good bioindicators as they need flower sources to forage on. By doing so, they can also increase plant diversity, which in turn allows the soil to better absorb water and reduces red soil runoff.

Ryo Kirino, the Agricultural Environment Coordinator of Onna Village Office, came up with an idea for a project to encourage local farmers to dedicate part of their land to honeybees and raise awareness of the red soil problem in Okinawa. By educating farmers in the craft of beekeeping, they would be able to produce and sell honey as an extra source of income.

The Onna-OIST collaboration began when Kirino-san reached out to OIST researchers. OIST’s Ecology and Evolution Unit has several honeybee colonies, which are being studied for diverse research purposes such as by Professor Alexander Mikheyev, Dr. Maeva Techer and Dr. Nurit Eliash to investigate a honeybee parasite called the Varroa mite, or by Dr. Vienna Kowallik to study the honeybee microbiome.

28 honeybees save coral
From left to right: Saori Chappell and Dr. Vienna Kowallik from OIST’s Ecology and Evolution Unit, Ryo Kirino from the Onna Village Office, and expert beekeeper Takashi Ikemiya (Honeybee and You company). The collaboration will tackle simultaneous challenges of red soil erosion and honeybee research.

The OIST team provided Onna Village with a selection of honeybee colonies and organized and participated in several outreach events to enhance public awareness as well as to support exchange and networking between beekeepers, farmers and scientists. In return, the OIST researchers benefitted from the knowledge of expert beekeepers who are experienced in caring for honeybees in a subtropical island environment. The efforts to combine knowledge exchange, educational outreach and support local farmers are allowing the project to grow locally and sustainably.

Read more about the project here.

Project Collaborators

  • Mikheyev Alexander, Professor, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia and Adjunct Professor, Ecology and Evolution Unit, OIST
  • Techer Maeva, Postdoc, Ecology and Evolution Unit, OIST
  • Kowallik Vienna, Postdoc, Ecology and Evolution Unit, OIST
  • Eliash Nurit, Postdoc, Ecology and Evolution Unit, OIST
  • Chappell Saori, RUA, Ecology and Evolution Unit, OIST
  • Kirino Ryo, Agricultural Environment Coordinator, Onna village office
  • Ikemiya Takashi, Beekeeper
  • Arakaki Tsuto, Beekeeper

Project Video