The situation has been described by a local angler as "an ecological disaster of a biblical scale".
Concerns are mounting as the largest freshwater lake on the island of Ireland continues to be affected by a blue-green algae, resulting in bathing bans, the death of local pets and wildlife and 'dangerous' levels of pollution.
Lough Neagh supplies 40% of Northern Ireland's drinking water, and NI Water has sparked confusion after insisting it “is confident there is no water quality issue” in terms of what comes out of taps in the affected areas.
The toxic cyanobacteria which takes the form of blue-green algae is thought to be the result of agricultural pollution from slurry and fertilisers as well as sewage, combined with rising temperatures as the result of global warming and sunlight causing eutrophication. The lough was also affected by an invasive mussel species, the Zebra Mussel - the alien species filters particles from the water, allowing light to penetrate further into the depths and encouraging nuisance plant and algal growth.
As well as being one of Northern Ireland's main water supplies, the Lough provides livelihoods for some 200 fishermen and is home to the largest eel fishery in Europe. With five of Northern Ireland's six counties having shores on the Lough, its also heavily relied upon for recreation and is known for swimming, water sports and scenic walks as well as being home to a diverse array of wildlife. All of this has has come under threat over the last few months, as the algae situation has worsened.
A huge issue stems from the fact that no single body owns the lough - The Shaftesbury estate owns the lough bed and the soil, the banks, the rights to sand extraction and shooting licences for wildfowl - this dates back to the Plantation of Ulster in the 17th century.
The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, the National Trust and various charities and councils all own areas around the lough, but as no one individual or body or department is responsible there's not much being done on a Government level about the toxic algae.
Local activists and environmentalists are regularly campaigning for the welfare of the lough, and action is also being taken by scientists - as reported by the BBC, scientists are advising farmers through the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme, which aims to enable those in the agriculture industry to apply fertiliser strategically, reducing run-off and the resulting pollution. A motion by Green Party councillor Brian Smyth, passed by Belfast City Council, is the latest in a line of discussions surrounding the lough being taken over by public ownership.
For now, surrounding communities remain frustrated that not enough is being done to combat the current algae and potential future outbreaks, as well as the worsening stench from the lough.
Header image via Getty