As bee populations continue to drop so alarmingly that pollinators now have their own White House Task Force, a nonprofit in upstate New York is pioneering a new solution: A large-scale sanctuary focused on helping honeybees, wild bees, and butterflies start to recover.
It’s sort of like a spa where stressed-out bees can relax. The 50-acre sanctuary will be covered in bee hotels–customized to accommodate the more than 3,000 species in New York State alone–along with neverending fields of flowers to snack on and a pond for easy access to water.
While some other nonprofits are setting aside wildlife habitat for bees, the sanctuary goes a little further, boosting what would typically be available in nature so bees can survive longer and reproduce more. While flowers might normally peak in spring and dwindle in the summer, the sanctuary will have blooms as long as the weather is warm enough.
“It will be planted with flowers that bloom in waves, so you always have flowers, every month, and they overlap so you always have food provided,” says Guillaume Gauthereau, CEO and founder of the New York Bee Sanctuary. The pond will help bees have an easier time of making it through hot summer months; even though there are rivers and lakes in the vicinity, they’re a fairly long flight away.
“One beehive on a hot summer day needs two to three gallons of water for air conditioning,” Gauthereau says. “If you see the size of the bee and imagine that she brings back the water in her mouth, think how many times it takes back and forth to bring gallons. If you put water nearby, you just minimize the energy spent. They can spend energy on other things like growing the hives.”
The sanctuary will also sponsor research. In one of their first projects, they plan to develop a cheap sensor that beekeepers everywhere can place in their hives to track data like temperature and humidity–so when something goes wrong, researchers have a better chance of finding out why. A lab at the sanctuary will also invite beekeepers to bring in dead bees for analysis.
They’re hoping that the sanctuary will lead to more in other areas, including in people’s backyards. “Even if you just have a rooftop or balcony or small garden, you can do something for pollinators,” says Gauthereau. “One sanctuary we make is not going to solve the whole problem, but if we have a strong network of sanctuaries all across the Northeast–which is our goal–then you can really address the problem the pollinators are facing right now.”
They also hope just to help more people learn about bees–especially native bees, since honeybees have gotten most of the headlines. “We’re allowing people to see the diversity and get interested in protection in general,” he says. “Because the solution is only going to come from general public awareness.”
The sanctuary is actively seeking land now in or near Catskill Park, about two hours north of New York City.