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Public urged to report deadly algae in NI lakes and rivers using free app

By Jilly Beattie

The Northern Ireland public have been urged report a toxin that occurs naturally in fresh water beauty spots and can prove is deadly to dogs in minutes.

The toxin is presents in a blue-green coloured scum on water that can cover entire ponds or be found along the edges of rivers, lakes, loughs and reservoirs.

Contact with or ingestion of the algae, which is actually a bacteria, can prove deadly to animals and harmful to humans affecting the liver quickly.

Read More: Council retesting Antrim Loughshore water after two dogs died

But now a free-to-download Bloomin’ Algae app can help make reporting easier, ensuring reaction by environmental experts can be faster and public warnings more efficient.

Anyone can sign up to the app and report the presence of harmful blue-green algae in their communities.

The Citizen Science app, created at Edinburgh University, is intended to help speed up public health warnings, explaining how to recognise the risks to humans and animals.

The news comes as one council in Northern Ireland confirmed they had tested fresh water for algae toxins following the death of two young dogs, reports of the presence of dead fish and incidents of other dogs becoming very sick.

Results delivered by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency Water Management Unit showed no algae in the water and prompted a return for more samples and a deeper dive into the potential pollutants washing into Antrim Loughshore.

However warning posters have already been put in place in some areas of Northern Ireland where the blue-green algae has been identified including the lakes at Craigavon, Co Armagh, and some areas of Castlewellan, Co Down.

Blue-green algae is a term used to describe a group of bacteria called cyanobacteria which occurs naturally in lakes, ponds, canals, rivers and reservoirs around the world.

The colour of the algae can range from dark to vibrant (Save Craigavon City Park and Lakes Community Group)

The cyanobacteria can produce toxic chemicals that are very harmful to the health of people and animals and are particularly a health risk during warmer summer months when their concentrations increase in the water to form blooms and scums on the surface.

Dogs are especially susceptible to the problem and ingestion of it has the potential to prove fatal within just 15 minutes as the toxin attacks the liver.

Blooms of the organisms often build up around the edges of ponds and lakes, which may look like foam.

It is most common in non-flowing fresh water such as lakes and ponds during hot weather when there is less rainfall, but can also occur at other times of the year.

The infected water can cause skin rashes, sickness, stomach pains, fever and headaches in humans and there have been some reports of more serious illnesses including liver and brain damage, with children are at greater risk than adults.

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One tell-tale sign of the issue is the presence of dead fish in ponds or lakes which have a high concentration of the toxic bacteria and dog walkers are urged not to let dogs drink from or enter this water. They can get the algae caught in their fur, and can also consume it while cleaning themselves later on.

If your dog shows any of the following signs after drinking from, or swimming or paddling in water, contact your vet immediately and tell them you are concerned about blue-green algae:

  • Vomiting
  • Being sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Seizures/fitting
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Unconsciousness
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Drooling
  • Breathing difficulties

How can I protect my dog from blue-green algae?

Keep your dog away from lakes and ponds that you know, or suspect may, contain blue-green algae.

Dogs should not be allowed to swim or paddle in water that contains blue-green algae.

Don’t let dogs drink from water that may have blue-green algae in. Because the wind often blows blooms of algae to the edges of ponds or lakes, higher concentrations of the toxin are more likely to be present in the parts of the water your dog may drink from.

Take note of signs warning of the algae during dog walks and follow the information given.

What are the dangers of blue-green algae to pets, people and ecosystems?

Blue-green algae can produce potent toxins that can result in a range of health effects in people and animals.

Effects on people coming into contact with toxic scums include skin rashes, eye irritations, vomiting and diarrhoea, fever and pains in muscles and joints.

Blue-green algae have caused the deaths of dogs, horses, cattle, birds and fish across the UK.

Further action and reporting harmful algae

The responsibility to manage algal blooms lies with the owner of the water concerned. For enquiries relating to blue-green algae, please contact your local authority such as the council or the NI Environment Agency.

For more about the free-to-download app click here and follow the link.

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Dive Deeper:
Dog owners issued blue-green algae advice as vets say it can cause 'rapid death'
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) says animals can be exposed even if they don't go in water.
Antrim Council warn public to stay out of Loughshore water following dog deaths
Testing for toxic algae have come back negative prompting urgent new testing to coincide with public warning
Locals 'concerned' over state of Welsh river but agencies say it’s nothing to worry about
Members of the Wye group are among many worried about the state of the Wye and levels of phosphates in…
Salmonella food poisoning symptoms - what to look out for after supermarket 'do not eat' chicken recall
Aldi, Sainbury's, M&S and Waitrose are among those who have issued "do not eat" warnings to customers
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Rapeseed warning for dogs and owners
Until research is establishes into the link between rapeseed, the fertilisers regularly used on it and the affect on dogs…
Salmonella symptoms as Aldi, Sainbury's, M&S and Waitrose issue 'do not eat' chicken warning
Chicken products are being pulled from supermarket shelves and cafes are warning customers 'do not eat' certain items after salmonella…
Get all your news in one place