Blue-green algae has caused a stirrup in Northern Ireland due to its sudden infestation of Lough Neagh, here you can learn about what it is and how to protect yourself from its nasty effects.
What is blue-green algae Northern Ireland?
Blue-green algae, also known as Cyanobacteria, are a group of photosynthetic bacteria that inhabit a variety of aquatic and terrestrial environments. Despite their name, these microorganisms span a colour spectrum from blue-green to red, and even black. They are found in both fresh and marine waters, thriving particularly in warm, nutrient-rich environments. Blue-green algae are often mistaken for true algae due to similar traits and habitats, however, they belong to the bacterial kingdom. They are capable of producing harmful toxins known as cyanotoxins, which can pose serious health risks to humans and animals if ingested. These algae are responsible for the harmful algal blooms often seen on the surfaces of lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, presenting as dense, paint-like scum or ‘blooms’ that can range in colour from green to red or brown.
Where has the algae been found?
Blue-green algae has completely taken over Lough Neagh leaving it as a shade of green rather than it’s usual deep blue colour. Lough Neagh has been infested by blue-green algae to such an extent that it is visible from space. As Lough Neagh provides 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water, this has lead to lots of worry over the cleanliness of the drinking water around the region. In response, NI Water have issued a statement that the tap water is still safe to drink as they continue their strict monitoring of their Water Treatment Works.
Portrush beach was also closed along with other coastal areas around Northern Ireland due to the sudden blue-green algae bloom, however these warnings have been since withdrawn after inspections.
What are the effects of blue-green algae Northern Ireland?
Blue-green algae has a large range effects on individual health and on the entire ecosystem it infests. As mentioned, blue-green algae produces toxins, exposure to these harmful toxins can have adverse impacts on the health of humans and animals. These toxins can affect the liver and the nervous system, inducing symptoms ranging from headaches, fever, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, to more severe health effects like seizures, liver failure, respiratory arrest, and even death in extreme situations. Skin contact can also lead to irritation, rashes, and blisters.
Blue-green algae can also affect the ecosystem of an area overall when they bloom uncontrollably. Excessive algae growth, known as an algal bloom, can block sunlight from reaching other aquatic plants, stifling their photosynthesis process and reducing oxygen levels in the water. This condition, known as hypoxia, can lead to a significant reduction in aquatic biodiversity as it creates an environment where many aquatic organisms cannot survive. In addition, the decay of a large algal bloom can further deplete oxygen in water bodies, leading to dead zones. Thus, while blue-green algae are integral to aquatic ecosystems, their unchecked growth poses a significant threat to aquatic biodiversity and the overall health of our planet’s water systems. This effect on the ecosystem has also had impacts on fish farming in Northern Ireland, especially eel farmers.
What if my dog drinks blue-green algae?
People have also been warned to keep their pets away from Lough Neagh and any other water containing blue-green algae. Animals can suffer the same horrible effects of blue-green algae toxins if they come in contact or ingest them. If a dog drinks water contaminated with blue-green algae, it may experience symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, or excessive drooling. Severe signs of poisoning can include difficulty breathing, seizures, disorientation, or collapse. Liver failure can occur rapidly, within hours to days after ingestion. If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms after drinking from an untrustworthy water source, seek immediate veterinary care. It’s crucial to prevent pets from drinking from bodies of water where blue-green algae blooms are present, as there is no known antidote for the toxins they produce.
How to remove blue-green algae from drinking water?
As NI Water have stated, they have been focused on ensuring that their water treatment facilities are effectively removing blue-green algae before it enters the mains supply, although, the chemicals used in this process are not fully removed at the end. This leads to an increased level of water treatment chemicals ending up in the mains supply such as chlorine. These chemicals, especially chlorine, can cause drinking water to have a bad taste and/or odour making it unpleasant to drink.
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