Raising awareness of toxic algae in Southland
Southlanders are more aware of the potential presence of dangerous toxic algae in rivers – and the risks it poses – thanks to new measures introduced by Environment Southland.
With funding from Envirolink, Environment Southland commissioned Cawthron Institute to advise on how they could improve public communication about the health risks of toxic algae, plus tighten up reporting frameworks. The 2017 report(external link) followed the discovery of extensive blooms and high toxin concentrations in several Southland rivers.
The Council found the report particularly useful for providing accurate information about toxic algae, which meant it could communicate with specific groups of people such as pet owners and stock managers, as well as the wider public, with confidence.
A number of the report’s recommendations have since been put in place, including using informational signs at high-use recreational sites where toxic algae has been found in the past, a summer social media campaign, additional web content(external link) about the problem, and regular monitoring over the summer.
Environment Southland Senior Scientist Roger Hodson says the council now receives comments from the community about the presence of toxic algae at locations outside of their regular monitoring network, plus there has been an increased number of people seeking advice on current conditions.
“The presence of toxic algae in freshwater can pose a risk to human and livestock health,” he says.
“It’s important that we act to inform the community of risks to enable continued safe use and enjoyment of our freshwater resources. Also to take action to restore degraded ecosystems to protect them for future generations to continue to enjoy.”
The Envirolink scheme(external link) funds research organisations to provide regional councils with advice and support for environmental research. Roger says it gave Environment Southland access to specialist information about toxic algae that was beyond their internal team’s knowledge.
“The report helped clarify exactly what we needed to do in order to better educate the community and others about the health risks posed by toxic algae.
“Environment Southland is committed to creating te taurikura o murihiku - a thriving Southland, specifically when it comes to managing access to quality natural resources. An important part of this is to provide accurate and consistent messages to the community about the risks toxic algae pose.”