Friends of the Earth says contamination of Lough Neagh with blue green algae ‘inevitable’

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council says it has received confirmation that blue green algae has been detected in a bay in Lower Lough Erne

A major bloom of the blue green algae which contaminated Lough Neagh last summer is “not even highly likely, it’s inevitable”, Friends of the Earth has warned.

Its Northern Ireland director, James Orr, said this was the consequence of wet, warm weather, increasing levels of pollution – particularly from excess nutrients contained in the run-off from agricultural fertiliser – and the “abject failure of the politicians to do anything” about it.

On Thursday Fermanagh and Omagh District Council said it had received confirmation from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency that blue green algae had been detected in a bay in Lower Lough Erne is what is believed to be the first officially reported case this year.

The council said signage has been erected to warn of the potential presence of the algae in Rossigh Bay and recommended that, given the health risks, people should “avoid contact with the affected water and shoreline, and ensure pets and animals are also kept away”.

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Last summer a major bloom of blue green algae contaminated the entirety of Lough Neagh, leading to a public campaign for urgent action to save what is the largest freshwater lake in Ireland and Britain.

A site of crucial ecological importance, Lough Neagh supports many rare and unique species, and is also a vital resource for local communities, supporting jobs and leisure activities, as well as supplying 40 per cent of the North’s drinking water.

On Monday the Assembly is scheduled to debate a motion proposed by the leader of the Opposition, the SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole, declaring an “ecological and biodiversity crisis” in Lough Neagh and calling for the establishment of an independent environmental protection agency by the end of this Assembly mandate.

In a visit to the lough with the First and Deputy First Ministers in March, Minister for the Environment Andrew Muir pledged interventions, including Northern Ireland’s first environment strategy and an action plan for Lough Neagh.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Orr said the lough was already in a “really dire situation”, and this was being exacerbated by warming temperatures in the North Atlantic and the failure to tackle major issues including pollution and climate change.

He said that in conversations over the weekend with people who are campaigning to save the lough they felt “we can’t even enjoy this spell of good weather because we know that’s contributing dramatically to the poisoning of the lough”.

“It’s that visceral now…this is more than just the protection of a big nature reserve, this goes very deep into everything cultural and everything economic.”

Mr Orr was highly critical of Stormont’s response, saying “we see an awful lot of rhetoric” and “tinkering around the edges” but his view was the expectation that “we’re going to have critical interventions that turn the lough around and give it what it needs, which is a huge breathing space, not to be contaminated, not to be extracted from, not to be dumped in” had been “toned down.

“There’s nothing certainly in the last month to indicate that they’re going to transform the way in which we produce food, the way in which we manage sewage, the way in which we regard water. “The communities get it now that water is life, water is everything, but these parties just seem to have their heads in the sand.”

The North’s Department of Environment has been contacted for comment.

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