9 February 2023

Concern for ducks drinking toxic water as Lake Albert remains off limits to public

| Oliver Jacques
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Duck in Lake Albert

A duck drinks water in Lake Albert that could be poisonous. Photo: Supplied.

Concerns have been raised about wildlife drinking toxic water from Lake Albert, as the popular waterway is set to remain off-limits to swimmers and boaters for the third consecutive week.

On 24 January, Wagga City Council issued an alert for the lake, advising residents not to enter the water due to high levels of blue-green algae – a cyanobacteria which can produce poisonous toxins. The alert remains current as at 9 February, with no timeframe on when restrictions may be lifted.

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The Moorong Veterinary Clinic has urged people not to let their dogs drink from or swim in the lake, raising questions about the safety of ducks, frogs, birds and other animals for whom the lake is a natural habitat.

Region was sent video footage of ducks drinking the lake water next to a stretch of thick, cloudy slime, recorded on 5 February.

Dr Matt Herring, a wildlife ecologist whose research has focused on the Riverina, said it was a danger we should not ignore.

“Waterbirds need to drink every day. If that water has high levels of blue-green algae, they can get poisoned,” he said.

Duck health is even an issue for those who shoot them. Victoria’s Game Management Authority has warned hunters operating in blue-green algae infected waters to “discard the internal organs (particularly the liver) of ducks and rinse the duck with clean water prior to cooking and eating”.

Dr Herring said it was an even bigger issue for bird species already endangered, such as the Australasian bittern. But solutions were “really tricky”.

“We can disturb the birds and get them to move on. That’s difficult but there is alternative habitat that isn’t affected by blue-green algae.”

Lake Albert and Griffith’s Lake Wyangan have been plagued by algal outbreaks over the past five years, disappointing residents who have been unable to use their town’s once valued recreational facilities in summer.

“It’s so unfortunate. Getting people outdoors is so important for people’s physical and mental health. We talk about nature deficit disorder. Kids don’t get outside and play enough. Ensuring water quality is good enough to promote boating and fishing should be a priority,” Dr Herring said.

Slimy Lake Albert greenish water

Slimy water at Lake Albert on 5 February. Photo: Supplied.

Wagga councillor Georgie Davies, who campaigned on improving the lake when running for local government, agreed.

“It’s the peak time for people to be using it and it’s really frustrating that the lake is out of use,” Ms Davies said.

READ ALSO Question marks over latest algal bloom that has forced Lake Albert closure

In 2018, council installed five solar-powered buoys which used ultrasound technology to help control algae. Region asked whether they were still in use and whether they were working effectively.

“The buoys assist in the management of algal growth; however, they will not prevent all outbreaks when ideal conditions for blooms exist,” a council spokesperson said.

“The buoys are regularly serviced by the manufacturer and have been working effectively up until some were vandalised in mid-January. This caused one buoy to stop working completely and two others to operate below their usual capacity. The manufacturer attended during the first week of February where the buoys were repaired. All buoys are now operating at their full capacity.”

Council also advised there are no other measures in place to combat algal outbreaks, though it is “undertaking weekly testing of Lake Albert to monitor the situation”.

Dr Herring wants all levels of government to be more proactive in tackling the problem.

“There are so many organisations involved [in wetlands management] but nobody takes the lead.”

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Joanne CONNOLLY10:39 am 10 Feb 23

Cyanobacterial (blue-green algal) blooms colour the water blue-green, or alternately brown, black or red, and the water may smell of rotting plant material. These blooms are harmful when they affect local ecosystems and animal health via oxygen depletion and/or toxin production. These blooms have long been known to be associated with domestic animal illness and deaths and occasionally cause mass mortality events in wildlife. Contributing environmental factors include climate change, water temperatures > 20°C, and pollution, particularly eutrophication (nutrient loading) of bodies of water from inputs of phosphorus and nitrogen.

A variety of toxins are produced by these organisms and enter the animal via ingestions and also skin contact, and can damage the nervous system, liver, and less commonly the skin. Depending on the toxin and exposure, clinical signs and findings are variable and the onset of illness may begin within minutes to days of initial exposure. Signs may include vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, collapse, pale gums, drooling, muscle tremors, muscle rigidity, paralysis, seizures, or difficulty breathing. There is no specific antidote for cyanotoxins, and treatment involves intensive, supportive care for patients by a veterinarian. Prevention involves avoiding exposure to visible blooms and following local advisories instructions. If you think your pet may have been exposed to an algal bloom, rinse their fur with fresh water and bring them to a veterinary hospital immediately.

Dr Joanne Connolly
School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences
Charles Sturt University

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