Paul Reilly: The vastness of Lough Neagh and the detriment of toxic algae

It's only when you actually get unto Lough Neagh that you fully appreciate its vastness.

We joined Paul Quinn on-board his boat, a boat he was hoping would prove a great business opportunity.

Over the last few weeks though demand for his tours of the fresh water lake have dramatically fallen.

Toxic blue-green algae now blighting the length and breadth of this natural resource and important eco-system.

While the conditions were choppy when we were out on Paul's boat, making it difficult to see the algae on the surface of the water but it was clearly visible on his sonar equipment.

"It's probably the worst I've ever seen," he said.

Looking over the side of the boat, the green particles are very apparent and the when the waves break, the water is green.

"I'm very worried to be honest," says Paul.

"I think the pollutants entering the lough has gotten greater. Populations are growing, housing developments are growing, so all that human waste and drainage has to end up somewhere," he told me.

"And now that it's got to this stage I feel like everyone is trying to stick their finger in the dyke, but it could be too late," Paul warned.

We left the shores of the lough at Kinnego marina and headed for the gates at Toombe.

The smell of the accumulation of algae there was almost over-powering times. The slight sea sickness from being on Paul's boat now compounded by all I can described as the smell of a headache.

Paul Reilly on Lough Neagh.

There I meet Mary O'Hagan who has pioneered the Save Our Shores campaign group.

Mary told me in recent days she'd been contacted by media from Germany, with Lough Neagh also being featured in TV in Australia and America.

"I think it's reaching nearly all corners of the World about how bad the situation is here," Mary told me.

She hopes that by bringing concerned groups together they'll be able to speak with one voice to call for action.

Dr Les Gornall is an environmental scientist who believes Lough Neagh has hit a "tipping point".

"The affects of our pollution increase and increase very slowly but once you hit the tipping point it's very difficult to switch back to a quality of water that's desirable," said Dr Gornall.

While there is some hope the colder weather and shorter days will see the algae blooms retreat there are concerns the damage caused could take decades to reverse.

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