Lough Neagh water users says blue-green algae is 'worst we have ever seen'

Blue-green algae has been an unwelcome visitor to our waterways this summer.

While huge algal blooms spread over Lough Neagh, the Environment Agency has also confirmed the presence of blue-green algae at Lower Lough Erne near Castle Archdale.

Those who use the water at Lough Neagh have spoken to UTV about how frustrating the impact of algae has been.

Mary O'Hagan is an open water swimmer who used to frequently swim at Cranfield Point.

"I know so many people that absolutely love and depend on the lough for not only their mental health but their physical health as well." she said.

"I think most of us have a fair idea why we're seeing the algae.

"I think the confusion lies in who is actually responsible? Who is going to stand up and take responsibility and lead some sort of a recovery programme for the lough?

"This is the worst we have ever seen it."

Mick Hagan comes from a family of fishermen; their livelihoods are reliant on the health of the lough.

"This fishing industry is collapsing and it's been collapsing for years.

"The eels are depleting, the ponds are going, and the next thing is going to be the scale fish.

"Until somebody picks up the mantle and does something about it, there's just so many unanswered questions.

"If you're going to get in there for your morning swim do you really want to swim through that?

"If you're going to go out and fish do you want to fish through that?

"Until somebody finds out the answers it's just fear at the moment."

In a statement responding to water users calls for action, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said it "is fully committed to protecting our environment and working with partners and stakeholders to ensure our waterways are healthy for biodiversity, the public and for animals.

"DAERA has a range of significant programmes underway to improve water quality including the development of River Basin Management Plan, the Soil Nutrient Health Programme, the Nutrient Action Plan, Environmental Farming Scheme and Environmental Challenge Fund.

"The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) also undertakes extensive monitoring and inspection programmes as well as investigating all reported pollution incidents.

"Blue Green Algae has been detected in multiple locations across Northern Ireland including Lough Neagh and Lough Erne. The key reason is that excess nutrients are entering our water bodies, primarily from agricultural land use activities and from waste water pressures.

"Algal blooms occur naturally due to the combination of factors such as water temperature, water clarity, sunlight and nutrient availability. However, excess nutrients can compound blooms and lead to the growth of blue-green algae, exacerbated by invasive Zebra mussels leading to clearer water conditions.

"Given the widespread nature of it within the Loughs, it is possible that it may wash up on any part of the shoreline. Farmers and pet owners should ensure that animals do not have access to water that appears to be subject to a bloom, as the algae can potentially produce toxins that may be fatal to livestock / pets.

"Whilst it is recognised that significant pieces of work are progressing, improvements in water quality will take a considerable period of sustained effort over many years, and DAERA and NIEA cannot deliver this on their own. Every person in Northern Ireland needs to consider how their behaviour impacts on the water environment. We all have a part to play in this long-term effort to positively contribute to a sustained improvement in the status of our water bodies."

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