Change in blue-green algae advice

Stefan Bradley

Note: The map of the safe/unsafe areas previously used in this article, and removed now, was outdated because all water is now safe for contact. We regret the error.

A recent cold-snap is helping disperse blue-green algae, with the entire Gippsland Lakes system and the ocean now deemed safe for contact with water.

Incident Controller Andy Gillham said while all areas are now safe for contact with water, there are still restrictions on seafood consumption.

“The colder weather we are experiencing is helping to disperse the algae, however, the current seafood advice remains in place for all of the Gippsland Lakes and in the ocean,” he said.

The current seafood advice is do not eat shellfish such as mussels, crabs or prawns from anywhere in the Gippsland Lakes or the ocean from McLoughlins Beach through to Marlo.

“Fish caught from anywhere in the Gippsland Lakes or the ocean should be gutted, gilled and washed thoroughly in fresh water prior to cooking, with the guts and gills discarded,” Mr Gillham said.

Signage regarding contact with water is currently being removed, however seafood consumption advisory signage will remain in place.

“We are urging people to continue to take note of signage in place at boat ramps, jetties and fishing spots, and check the VicEmergency app for the latest information,” Mr Gillham said.

Blue-green algae has been present in the Gippsland Lakes system since February this year.

Mr Gillham told the Gippsland Times that while it’s normal for the algae to bloom in February, it was “unprecedented and unusual for this (algae bloom) to be so big and long-lasting”.

“It’s only breaking down now after four and a half months. It usually dies off way before that,” Mr Gillham said.

“There’s the actual algae bloom, which is gone. But the consequences of the algae bloom is the build-up of toxins. The toxins remain in the shellfish for some time. It could be weeks, could be months. We’ll just keep testing.

“The entire Gippsland Lakes has been affected. The seafood in Lake Wellington was affected, even though the bloom didn’t reach there. That’s because of the movements of the prawns and the fish.”

Mr Gillham said that weather was a contributing factor to the growth of the algae.

“We had a very warm and dry autumn. And if we get a summer similar to the one we just had, we may see a similar situation next year. That’s my reading of it,” he said.

“When you get cold water, it changes the situation dramatically. The algae prefers a warm, humid environment. It starts to bloom, and then it starts to die when the weather changes. The weather killed it off very rapidly.

“When the algae was blooming, it was dangerous for humans and pets. It can kill pets, and it can give humans skin rash, and make you very unwell. Swimming is fine now, but the toxins are in the food chain. But if anyone sees a patch of murky water, then avoid. It could be out there, just avoid it. The algae never disappears fully, but has gone below a threshold.

“We’re pleased to advise that the Gippsland Lakes are now safe for a range of recreational activities, and we would like to thank the local community and visitors for helping to ensure everyone stayed safe during this latest algal bloom.

“This was managed as a Class 2 emergency under the Victorian Emergency Management Arrangement. It involved a whole State Government response. Led by DELWP, but also includes the Victorian Fisheries Authority, PrimeSafe, the Department of Health. They all came together over five months, all to protect the community, and we thank the community for their patience.”