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Blue-green algae posing risk to public, pets in New Brunswick as warmer weather sets in

Blue-green algae has been spotted in Moncton's Irishtown Nature Park.
Blue-green algae has been spotted in Moncton's Irishtown Nature Park. Brion Robinson/Global News

The government of New Brunswick is reminding the public this summer about blue-green algae that cause potential problems for people, as well as for pets and other animals.

Certain types of algae produce toxins, which can cause skin, eye and throat irritation, and more serious health effects such as gastrointestinal illness.

In a statement released on Saturday, the province said these toxins can also be harmful to fish, wildlife, livestock and domestic animals, especially dogs.

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The province explained that blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) is a naturally-occurring bacteria found in New Brunswick’s aquatic ecosystem but under certain conditions can increase in numbers to form surface blooms or benthic mats. These tend to occur during the warmer months.
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“We understand residents want to be active and enjoy the outdoors, but they should consider the potential risks of exposure to blue-green algae,” said Dr. Cristin Muecke, deputy chief medical officer of health, in a press release.

“New Brunswickers should familiarize themselves with blue-green algae’s appearance, in order to avoid any of the risks associated with it this summer for themselves, their loved ones and their pets.”

READ MORE: Risk advisory in effect for Lake Micmac due to possible blue-green algae bloom

While most commonly blue-green in colour, surface blooms can also look green, red, brown or yellow, according to the province.

Benthic mats form along the bottom of lakes and rivers and can look like clumps of vegetation that can appear black, brown or dark green in the water, but when washed up on the shore they may appear brown or grey once they have dried. They can also be attached to rocks or aquatic vegetation.

According to the province, the public health advisory that was issued in 2019 for the Saint John River between Woodstock and Fredericton due to the presence of benthic mats remains in effect.

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Pet owners are also being advised that benthic mats that wash up along the shores of lakes and rivers can be toxic and particularly harmful to dogs.

“Dogs are attracted to their odour and should not be permitted to eat vegetation or floating mats, as they can be lethal if consumed.”

Muecke is advising people to always check the water before entering and avoid swimming in areas where there are visible blooms or mats.

Other safety advice includes:

  • Always supervise young children and pets near recreational waters.
  • Do not swallow lake or river water.
  • Bathe or shower immediately after swimming.
  • Do not enter the water with open cuts or sores.
  • Always wash your hands after having them in lake or river water, especially before eating.
  • Do not handle benthic mats when wading, fishing or boating.