Dog lucky to survive encounter with toxic algae: England’s waterways full of algae

30 August 2012

The owners of a dog in Surrey, England, were lucky to get their dog to a vet in time to save its life after it swam in a pond full of toxic algae.  The dog spent 36 hours on a drip and was fortunate to recover.  Most don’t.  Local residents are upset about the apparent inadequacy of the warning signage.  At least there was some – over here in South Africa reservoirs can be full of toxic algae without any warnings whatsoever!

England’s waterways are reportedly in a very poor state – with record levels of algal blooms predicted for this summer season.

Mild weather and fertilisers washing into waterways after heavy rain have been blamed for widespread algae covering inland water, putting pets at risk and devastating fish stocks.  The Environment Agency said it had recorded 127 incidents of algae, halfway through the three-month peak season for the blight. The record figure is 226, set in 2005, making a new record this year possible.

The algae starve fresh water of oxygen and when they are the blue-green toxic cyanobacteria are a risk to human and animal health as ingestion can lead to symptoms including convulsions and liver failure. One woman had to have her dog’s stomach pumped by a vet after the animal dived into an algae-affected lake.

Over in the USA, lake-user complaints often centre on too many warnings and that the warnings are “overkill” – but better safe than sorry.  For the second year in succession, warnings are up at Buckeye Lake in Ohio.  In Oregon, Blue Lake may need to consider a name change to Blue Green Lake after cyanotoxins were detected recently.  Interestingly, I see that Blue Lake features in ads for a brand of water circulator which, it is claimed, has put an end to blue-green algal blooms in this very lake?  Speaking too soon advertisers?

Oregon is yet another US state that provides a website where one can check where the toxic algal blooms are.

The recent announcement about the widespread incidence of toxic algae across Canada continues to reverberate in the press.  In Manitoba, which was found to have the highest toxin levels of all Canadian provinces, questions are being asked of officials as to why they have continued to allow excessive levels of phosphorus to be discharged into their lakes – placing at risk the health of the environment, man and animals.  I expect that in the not-too-distant future we will see criminal action being pursued against officials who knew better but chose not to act appropriately.  I know of a few that should be prosecuted.  The best way to get something done is to lobby your MP…you voted for them so make them do something.  If they don’t, well, you get what you voted for.

And finally, here’s a research opportunity with no pressure at all (!): Some researchers from the University of Tennessee are to form part of a team with the goal of solving the problems in China’s Lake Taihu, currently the highest profile eutrophic lake in the world.  Pretty bold to even suggest that the scale of this particular problem can be addressed, if at all, but let’s watch and hope.

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