The (Real) Lough Neagh  Monster – Water Pollution

Three Year 13 pupils have recently put their investigative reporting skills to the test having entered the Young Reporters for the Environment National Competition. This competition invites young people between the ages of 11 and 25 to investigate, research and report on a local environmental issue. Jorja McCabe, Hannah Kerr and Olivia De La Torre produced an outstanding article entitled ‘The (Real) Lough Neagh Monster. Focusing on the impact of the presence of blue-green algae in Lough Neagh they used various sources of information including taking first hand photographs and obtaining a statement from the First Minister, Michelle O’Neill. We wish the girls all the best in this competition against other entries from as far away as New Zealand and the USA to name a few. Good luck girls!


The (Real) Lough Neagh  Monster – Water Pollution

In this picture (above) ducks can be seen swimming in and  around the water pollution which has taken the form of  foam. (Photographer: Hannah Kerr, 2024)

Can you imagine drowning? Can you  imagine waste physically suffocating  you? Can you imagine being poisoned by  the simple oxygen you breathe?

This may seem extreme…

Yet this is what is happening to the  innocent, helpless and defenceless creatures populating our luxurious

loughs. Their beauty is being obliterated  by the horrific Cyanobacteria (blue green algae) and pollution infesting the  lough.

In Northern Ireland, we proudly boast of  having the largest lake in the UK, however in the last year we have  pumped 20 million tonnes of untreated  sewage into our Northern Ireland waters. The Department of Agriculture  and Rural Affairs have stated there have  been 7,052 pollution and waste  dumping incidents between the years  2019-2023 with 4,268 being cases of  water pollution alone. Action must be  taken.

Water pollution is all around us in rivers  and loughs- coming in different forms  depending on your location. For some  locations foam often appears and in  others a strong aroma and

discolouration of the water are common  features. This toxic blue-green algae  could be seen in bloom from space last  year, therefore, proving the dire need  there is to resolve this issue.

The blue-green algae found in Lough  Neagh is a bacterium which poses a  massive threat to pets, livestock and

wildlife as it is extremely toxic for them.  Fish populations have completely  collapsed, with Northern Ireland even  losing its Lough Neagh eels.

One of the main causes for water  pollution is the farming industry, with  the NI Audit Office revealing a quarter of  water pollution incidents in 2022 were  linked to the agricultural sector.  This is largely due to the excess  nutrients from agricultural waste and  water systems further proving the  declining state of our ecological status.  Algal blooms are absolute monsters in  our environment: they block the sun  from the bottom of the lake, killing plants and when the bacteria

decompose them, it causes an increased  biological oxygen demand, posing a  threat to nearly all life in and around the  lough.


This photograph (above) shows the water pollution that can  be seen at Oxford Island and Kinnego Marina, oil spills from  boats can also be seen. (Photographer: Hannah Kerr, 2024)

Whilst water pollution and this blue green algae are not only unpleasant for  the eye and nose, they are also highly  dangerous for pets as well with a total of  7 dogs dying in 2023 alone due to this  algae’s poisonous properties, some of  the most severe, including neurotoxins  and hepatotoxins.

This infestation is affecting everyone  who uses the Lough and poses a threat  to steal our jewel of Northern Ireland.

Action must be taken.

There is hope for our lakes. Large  amounts of the blue-green algae have  died off due to the winter, however, if  nothing is done it is looking likely that  the shocking amounts of algae we saw  last year will be returning, with  sightings of the reappearance of algae already beginning, now in 2024.

So, what can we do about it?

Individually, there are many things you  can do. These small changes to your  lifestyle are by no means insignificant.

The photograph (above) shows an example of the rubbish  which can be seen at various points along the Kinnego  Marina and Oxford Island waterline. Energy drink bottles,  cans and disposable e-cigarettes are among some of the most  sighted items. (Photographer: Hannah Kerr, 2024)

Firstly, you can learn about where your  water comes from, the qualities of water  where you live and how wastewater is  treated. We need more people to know  about this issue so we can produce  change. Though that’s not all you can do,  you can also properly dispose of  chemical cleaners and

nonbiodegradable products, pick up  litter you see if you’re on a walk at your  local river or lough and simply pick up  waste from your pets.

However, this is not the only way change  needs to happen- whilst individually  your actions towards water pollution  matter- more needs to be done on a  larger scale to produce effective change  for Northern Ireland.

Whilst our First and Deputy First  Minister have both stated there needs to  be “immediate action” with the  agriculture minister even stating  “collective” effort is needed in protecting  our Lough, little has been done to  change things significantly. The  Executive has yet to finalise its

Programme for Government, meaning  no budget has been allocated for the  departments yet. Andrew Muir, the  Environment and Rural Affairs minister  says MLAs need to “get real” about the

environment and provide more funds. When we interviewed Michelle O’Neill  on the urgency of the issue with water  pollution in Lough Neagh, she

responded that:

‘Clearly, it is very urgent. Lough Neagh is  a huge asset for all the communities  who live close to its shores, and it has so  much untapped potential. No one wants  to see a situation like we did last  summer. That is why Sinn Fe in brought  the motion and have been working so  hard on this and we will continue to  push for solutions in the time ahead.’

She also stated how: ‘It will take a multi departmental and multi-faceted approach to resolve and that is what I  am determined to now see happening.’

Unfortunately, it is looking likely that  budget cuts will prevent Lough Neagh  from receiving the help it desperately  needs, and a pause will most likely be  put on this dire issue.

So, the only tool we have left to use is  our voice. We implore you to use it. Talk to your local MLAs, question them, email  them, phone their constituency offices.

Something must be done about this  issue. We need to get attention brought  to it and the only way we can is through  you.

Don’t let your voice be drowned.  Change is needed now.


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