Lough Neagh situation worsens as blue green algae continues to plague source of 40% of NI water

As blue green algae continues to plague Lough Neagh one local angler has described the current situation at the lough as "an ecological disaster of a biblical scale".

The blooms have become a common sight over the summer months, and last week's high temperatures along with high pollution levels in the water led to yet another wave.

It has left the local community frustrated that more is not being done to combat the current algae blooms and prevent future outbreaks.

For people who depend on the lough, whether for work or recreation, frustration at the current situation has turned to desperation. Mary O'Hagan uses the lough for cold water swimming she feels she is "beating her head off a brick wall, essentially, because everybody that you talk to, everybody that you meet knows about it.

"The MLAs know about it, so many of our MLAs live around the shores of Lough Neagh.

"Yes while they might put a statement out and say yes this is terrible we need action done, at the same time, nothing is happening.

"This is a public health crisis."

Joe Early is a Development Officer at the Ulster Angling Society. He says the current situation "is an ecological disaster of biblical proportions really and nobody seems to want to do anything about it"

Dr Louise Taylor, founder of the group Love Our Lough described the lough as "undervalued and overlooked for many many reasons."

She says "it is the dirtiest secret of Northern Ireland, a lot of people have known for years and years and years that it is being polluted to incredibly dangerous levels.

"It is not being respected, it is not being cared for."

Director of Friends of the Earth NI James Orr said the lough 'is not dying of general causes, but being killed by pollution."

He does however believe the Lough Neagh can recover, but only if the authorities responsible for looking after it 'do their job.' In a statement DAERA said: “The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs 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.

“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.”

In response to the recent algae blooms a Water Quality steering group will carry out an investigation into the current policy interventions as well as: the regulations and inspection regimes; education and knowledge transfer; and, the available science and evidence base.

"The report will identify the owners of key actions and produce a plan of recommendations necessary to improve water quality.

"The timescale for the delivery of the report will be determined by the steering group in due course. DAERA have established an Operational Task Team which is focused on the immediate response, including identification of blue-green algae blooms and the notification to relevant bodies.

"This team is comprised of pollution response, algae identification, bathing waters and fisheries management staff. Meetings have been held to discuss the current blue green algae issue with a number of relevant government departments and other agencies."

Despite the message from DAERA, local communities here fear long term plans to improve the lough will be too little too late. As the blooms grow, so too do demands for solutions, and for accountability.

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