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Ireland’s Largest Freshwater Lake Is Dying, Impacting Health and Livelihoods

Lough Neagh, Ireland’s largest freshwater lake, is experiencing a concerning deterioration that is adversely affecting public health, wildlife, and local economies, according to recent reports.

The root of the problem lies in the formation of harmful algal blooms, a phenomenon exacerbated by the convergence of farm runoff and sewage pollution with elevated temperatures and sunlight, leading to a process known as eutrophication.

During the recent summer, Lough Neagh took on an ominous green hue as toxic cyanobacteria, often referred to as blue-green algae, found ideal conditions to flourish.

Data from Northern Ireland’s Environment Agency reveals that a significant portion of the phosphorus pollution responsible for this predicament, approximately 62%, is attributed to agriculture. Wastewater accounts for 24%, while septic tanks contribute 12%. Additionally, nitrates from fertilisers and slurry pose a continuing challenge. Notably, phosphorus runoff into Lough Neagh surged by approximately 50% following the implementation of Stormont Executive’s 2012 Going for Growth strategy.

Dr. Elaine McGoff of An Taisce, underscores the urgent need for action and stricter regulation, particularly for the farming sector. She warns that the dire condition of Lough Neagh serves as a stark warning for farmers across Ireland who resist efforts to curtail pollution.

Dr. McGoff emphasises, “Lough Neagh is a stark illustration of our potential future if we fail to prioritise data-driven scientific approaches to water quality. If policymakers continue to yield to pressures and if robust measures are not implemented for agriculture and wastewater treatment, we risk witnessing similar ecological disasters as are currently unfolding in Northern Ireland. Lough Neagh has already paid an exorbitant price, resembling an ecological disaster zone.

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