FAIRFAX, Va. - Germán Perilla’s colleagues refer to him simply as “The Bee Whisperer.”
Perilla is the Founder and Director of George Mason University’s Honey Bee Initiative.
"The key is to be at peace with yourself; if you respect the bees and yourself, the bees will sense that," explained Perilla, as he pets hundreds of bees.
However, Perilla’s friends have not been at peace recently.
He explained that the bee population has dropped by more than two-thirds in the State of Virginia since the 1970s, thanks to the varroa mite, insecticides and management practices.
“Our very human survival depends on the survival of pollinators and honeybees in particular,” said Honey Bee Initiative Co-Founder Lisa Gring-Pemble.
Perilla and Gring-Pemble hope their work with the Honey Bee Initiative will help ensure the survival of these important pollinators.
“I think what people sometimes don't realize is the honeybee crisis is food security, and that is a national security issue,” said Gring-Pemble.
The program offers various educational and economic opportunities locally and even internationally. The initiative offers classes on sustainable bee keeping, is currently converting the Interstate-95 landfill in Lorton into a pollinator-friendly meadow and teaching women in other countries how to succeed using bees as a means of sustainable income.
They are currently engaged in various research projects, including a search for queen bees that will thrive in Virginia and testing pollen and bees for the presence of neonicotinoids.
“Neonicotinoids are systemic insecticides and these are the most popular insecticides in the world. When I say systemic, that means it goes into the plant, and it is expressed in pollen and nectar," said Perilla, explaining that when the bees feed on the nectar and pollen, they bring traces of neonicotinoids into the hive, eventually causing a fatal disruption to their nervous system.
"Many seeds are treated with neonicotinoids," Perilla said. "If you’re planning on planting a pollinator-friendly garden, it’s important to do your research."
“One-third of the food we eat in the United States depends on bee pollination directly; that's about $15 billion per year that they produce,” said Perilla, adding, “Our survival actually depends on the health of the bees.”
Activists efforts have not gone unnoticed; the Virginia Field Office of the USDA’'s Agricultural Statistics Service said Virginia honey bee colonies have increased by 23 percent since last year.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has deemed September “Honey Month” in the State of Virginia, which is a step in the right direction, according to activists.
However, Gring-Pemble said the fight is far from over.
“We are a global society, and we need multiple perspectives, multiple backgrounds and multiple fields to bring to bear on complex challenges. The decline of the honeybee is certainly one of those challenges," he said.