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Three Sinn Féin MLAs have brought a motion to the newly restored Stormont Assembly for action to save Lough Neagh from its pollution crisis, as The Irish Times reports.

MLA for North Antrim, Philip McGuigan described the situation on the lough as an “ecological catastrophe”.

“The work of saving Lough Neagh and repairing the damage to its ecology and environment and that of its tributaries and surrounding land must be a top priority for the Executive in the time ahead,” he told the Assembly on Tuesday (13 February).

The motion comes on the heels of last summer’s spate of toxic blue-green algae blooms, which caused the deaths of numerous pets and was blamed for the collapse of the lough’s renowned native eel fishery.

Untreated wastewater and agricultural run-off — not to mention climate change, invasive species such as the zebra mussel, and political inaction due to the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive — have been singled out as reasons behind the current crisis.

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) has welcomed the outcome of a case it brought against Uisce Éireann involving sewage pollution of the Cavan town river.

A fine of €2,000, plus costs and expenses of €3,197, were imposed at a hearing on the matter at Cavan District Court on Friday 1 December.

It comes after IFI had previously secured prosecution in October against the State water utility for pollution of the Ballinagh River in Co Cavan which killed 160 fish.

The court heard that in the wake of ongoing issues at the Uisce Éireann wastewater treatment plant at Ballinagh, senior IFI fisheries environmental officer Ailish Keane had taken samples for analysis following the pollution event in Cavan town on 3 February this year.

These test samples, taken downstream from the plant, showed high levels of pollutants, with large amounts of sewage fungus — bacteria, fungus and algae that reduce oxygen levels — visible on the bed of the river.

Commenting on the verdict, Dr Milton Matthews, director of IFI’s North-Western River Basin District said: “We welcome the outcome in this case. The presence of sewage fungus in the river is indicative of chronic organic pollution of the Cavan town river at this location, rather than an isolated incident — with significant impact on fish, invertebrates and all aquatic life in the river.

“There were significant breaches of the licence emission limits for biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) — oxygen required to break down organic matter in the water — and high ammonia levels.

“Sample results taken at the location indicated that ammonia levels were over 115 times higher than permitted discharge limits, and eight times higher than permissible for BOD limits as stipulated for this treatment plant.”

The conviction was secured under Section 171 of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959 — legislation regarding protection of fishing waters from harmful pollutants.

Members of the public are encouraged to report instances of water pollution, illegal fishing, habitat destruction or fish kills to IFI’s confidential number at 0818 34 74 24.

Published in Angling

The Rivers Trust supports the findings of new report that rings alarm bells about the critical state of water quality management in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The Surfers Against Sewage Water Quality Report for 2023 says that in Northern Ireland, there is a lack of the discharge of raw sewage into waters at popular beaches and inland waterways bathing sites — and both anecdotal reports and water quality data suggest the problem is significant.

Mark Horton, all-Ireland director of The Rivers Trust said the report “underscores longstanding environmental concerns we continually raise. The evidence of the effects of sewage and pollution is there and clear.

“The severe algal bloom in Lough Neagh is a stark illustration of the consequences of poor environmental stewardship in Northern Ireland.”

NI’s 2,398 operational sewage overflows — and the sparse data on their performance — emphasise an urgent need for investment in increased monitoring and more transparency so the public can make informed decisions and remedial actions can be taken, The Rivers Trust says.

Horton added: “The management of sewage in Northern Ireland shows a critical need for investment and modernisation. With the absence of a functioning Stormont Executive and no independent environment agency, decisive actions to protect and restore water quality are practically impossible.

“This inaction is unacceptable. Water users in Northern Ireland deserve the same level of safety and information as those elsewhere. Ultimately, we need proper resourcing of Northern Ireland Water to enable it to put in place real-time sewage alerts, so swimmers, surfers and anglers can protect themselves from direct discharges of untreated sewage.”

Horton acknowledged NI water’s plans to deploy monitoring systems by 2024 as “a positive step”, but cautioned that “the lack of clarity on how data will be dissemination and public accessibility to the data remains a concern”.

“Real-time, accessible water quality information isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity for the health and safety of our communities and ecosystems,” he said.

Warning signage is being removed from locations around Lough Neagh following this past summer’s blooms of toxic blue-green algae.

But as BBC News reports, it could be years before the ecological impact on the lough is fully understood.

Ulster Angling Federation chair Gary Houston claimed that the collapse of the Lough Neagh fly, attributed to the cyanobacteria blooms, has had a knock-on effect on all other species in the area — most notably its native trout and eels.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) said the fly species was not previously monitored as it was “commonplace and not a protected feature” but confirmed they are “a key trophic (food) component of the Lough Neagh ecosystem”.

“We’ve been damaging the ecosystem in Lough Neagh now for 60 years or so and we’ve been doing it knowingly for 50 years, but we’ve got away without the acute impacts [until now],” said Dr Adam Mellor of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institution (AFBI).

All parties acknowledge that the current crisis is the result of multiple factors over decades — including climate change, changes in agriculture and the presence of invasive species — and some believe it could take just as long to turn it around.

BBC News has much more on the story HERE.

New predictive technology being developed in Estonia could help prevent the spread of pollution from shipwrecks.

Estonia’s public broadcaster ERR News reports on the monitoring system created by marine scientists at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) that may forecast where fuel will spread in the water from a hazardous wreck site.

Estonia’s coastline on the Gulf of Finland, Gulf of Riga and Baltic Sea has a large number of decades-old shipwrecks which are increasingly prone to fuel leaks as they age.

So far the results are promising, with TalTech’s predictive computer models — using current and wave data from Estonian waters — matching real-world data collected from smart buoys placed at a number of coastal sites.

ERR News has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Science

More than half of Ireland’s bathing waters were affected by swimming bans this past summer, an investigation by Noteworthy has revealed.

While four in five coastal and inland bathing spots were classed as excellent in 2022, that statistic runs counter to a wave of swimming prohibitions at beaches and other areas around Ireland in recent years.

This is due to various problems with pollution caused by wastewater release and other factors, the report indicates.

And the issue is being exacerbated by climate change, as wetter conditions lead to overflow from treatment plants operating below EU standards, not to mention runoff from farmland and other surface waters.

Noteworthy has much more on the story HERE.

Published in Sea Swim
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Lough Neagh “isn’t just dying, it’s been killed” by a combination of human-made factors, one conservationist has declared as the crisis around toxic blooms of blue-green algae continues.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Friends of the Earth NI director James Orr says the situation “has literally blown people’s trust in the health of the lough out of the water”.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the lough — which is the source of nearly half of Northern Ireland’s drinking water — is in crisis due at least in part to the affects of pollution from untreated wastewater and agricultural run-off, as anglers and other groups have claimed.

Similar blooms of cyanobacteria have been recorded across the region, such as on the Lower Bann — which has lost at least one long-standing watersport business to the “unsustainable” situation — and with the latest confirmed at Lough Ross in Crossmaglen.

The issue prompted protestors to hold a ‘wake’ for Lough Neagh last weekend, as others lamented the collapse of the lough’s renowned eel fishery and even the Catholic and Anglican archbishops of Armagh were moved to call for immediate government intervention to help reverse “an environmental disaster”.

In recent days the SDLP has made a renewed bid to recall the Stormont assembly to address the crisis — the lack of a functioning devolved government in Northern Ireland since February 2022 being cited as one of a combination of factors that’s led to the current state of affairs.

Peter Harper of the Lough Neagh Partnership tells The Irish Times that other salient factors include the impact of the invasive Zebra mussel as well as climate change, which has raised the temperature at the bottom of the lough by one degree, in turn contributing to wetter weather that feeds the cycle of pollution from farmland and an overwhelmed sewage system.

“The lough’s in crisis,” says Ciara Laverty of the Lough Neagh Partnership. “The ecology’s changing, unless we do something drastic about it now. Decades of neglect have led us to this point.”

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Causeway Coast and Glens councillors have echoed growing concerns over the state of the aquatic environment following recent blooms of toxic blue-green algae, as the Belfast Telegraph reports.

Alliance Councillor Peter McCully tabled a motion at last week’s Environmental Services Committee Meeting that emphasised the “detrimental impact these blooms have had on local businesses”.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, at least one long-standing business on the Lower Bann has announced its closure, claiming its future is “unsustainable” given the likelihood of dangerous cyanobacteria blooms happening “on a yearly basis”.

Cllr MuCully said the response from Northern Ireland’s Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to this summer’s incidents is “not sufficient” and his motion calls for DAERA to convene cross-party talks across all affected council areas to develop and action plan.

Lough Neagh has also been affected by toxic blue-green algae blooms in recent months, with angling groups claiming that the lough is “dying” due to the affects of pollution from untreated wastewater and agricultural run-off.

The lough’s eel fishermen have added their voices to the call for action, saying their industry has collapsed this season.

"Never have I seen so many eel fisherman resorting to scale fishing in order to make some form of income,” one co-op member told the Irish News, which has more on the story HERE.

A ‘substantial’ fish kill affecting trout and young salmon has been discovered in a tributary of the River Finn in Co Donegal.

Donegal Daily reported on Wednesday (13 September) on the incident in what’s described as a “nursery stream” at Crossroads in Killygordon, east Donegal.

It says it understands that hundreds of trout and young salmon have been lost.

In a statement, the Loughs Agency said it was alerted on Tuesday evening (12 September) “to the potential presence of a pollutant into a tributary of the River Finn, allegedly stemming from a commercial premises”.

It continued; “Loughs Agency fishery officers immediately initiated an investigation, where they discovered a discharge of deleterious matter had entered the watercourse.

“Substantial fish mortalities were discovered in the river on Tuesday evening, as well as during searches on the morning of Wednesday 13 September. Samples were collected from the discharge for analysis.

“Loughs Agency has committed significant resources into the clean-up operation, with fishery officers actively working to help ensure additional fish mortalities are mitigated as best as possible. We will have resources at the site of the incident until the investigation is complete.”

Published in Angling

A popular destination for watersport on Northern Ireland’s North Coast has blamed governmental inaction over wastewater discharges for its decision to close after nearly three decades.

In a statement on social media, Rob Skelly of the Cranagh Activity Centre said recent blooms of toxic blue-green algae that have affected Lough Neagh and the Lower Bann are travelling out to sea through the river system, past its location.

“With this likely to happen on a yearly basis we feel that our business has become unsustainable and that we have no option but to close,” Skelly added.

He also echoed recent comments from concerned angling groups in saying that “we are seeing the collapse of the ecology of the Lough Neagh and Lower Bann system”.

The Belfast Telegraph has more on the story HERE.

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