MYSTERY continues to surround the circumstances around the deaths of at least three dogs who had been walked close to Antrim’s shoreline with Lough Neagh.

Tests on the water have so far proved inconclusive and Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has advised people to stay out of the water until more is known - as the summer tourist season approaches.

Queen’s University expert Professor Chris Elliott suggested that a ‘cyanotoxic bloom’ was taking place and urged people to keep pets and children away from the water.

But the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has said that ‘no blue green algae have been found in the sample analysed’.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is also looking into the deaths.

A local environmental group has now raised concerns about the decline in insect an invertebrate life in the Six Mile Water river which flows into the lough over a ten year period, warning of a ‘major public health issue’.

Last week, a third dog owner came forward to say that their pet passed away after walking in the Lough Shore Park area.

Rory McCarthy was the latest local to speak out after little Titch passed away following a three-week battle with kidney failure.

The weekend previous, Kaylee Agnew ·spoke up after her pup Winnie died aged just five months, hours after taking a seizure following a walk at Rea’s Wood.

Dead fish were also spotted in the vicinity, although some local wildlife enthusiasts have said that these may be bream, which die naturally following their mating season.

There were more reports of dead fish at Randalstown Forest, which also sits on the loughshore.

Another dog, a spaniel called Milo, died after a walk at the Boat Club side of the Six Mile Water river. His owner has remained anonymous.

But Mr McCarthy, who lives in the town, said that Titch was enjoying a walk in a grassed area between the caravan park and golf club, away from the water, when she disappeared from view into the undergrowth.

He said she reappeared, wagging her tail and licking her lips as if she had just eaten something.

The seven year old pet became sick soon after and battled on for several weeks before passing away, leaving Rory and his wife ‘devastated’.

A spokesperson for Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council said: “Whilst investigations continue at Antrim Loughshore we would strongly advise dog owners to exercise caution and keep their dogs on a lead at all times. We would also advise that all water sport activity (including open water swimming) cease until further notice is given.”

Signs have also been erected around the area by council, but Antrim Alliance rep Neil Kelly has told the Antrim Guardian that these official posters have been torn down at least three times.

Dog lover Mr Kelly said that while council has been criticised for a slow response and poor communication with dog owners, the body is doing all it can to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The Six Mile Water Trust environmental group said it has ‘major concerns’ over the recent fatalities close to Lough Neagh and the water quality of the Six Mile Water, adding that ‘this could be a major public health issue’.

“The Trust posted information on social media regarding possible risks to pet dogs on Friday night to alert the public, which reached over thirty thousand people , two hundred and fifty shares and numerous comments and gave relevant information including photographs to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s water management unit.” said spokesman Jim Gregg.

“Numerous questions have been asked to regain confidence in our aquatic environs and remain until properly investigated .

“The Trust have been monitoring water quality on the Six Mile Catchment for over ten years and has detected a significant decline this year in invertebrate scores on its final test site at Deerpark Bridge at Clotworthy, one kilometre upstream of Lough Neagh and its Gate Way Centre.”

He added that invertebrate monitoring is a recognised and accepted method of assessing water quality.

“The new Gate Way Centre, Rea’s Wood and the Lough is a massive attraction to walkers and water users, such as paddle boarders, canoeists in the river and jet skiers in the Lough and children playing and paddling on the foreshore.” Mr Gregg continued.

“NI Water has made it clear in recent planning applications of the significant risk of pollution to the Six Mile from the sewage network which the planners and planning committee have disregarded.

“The Trust strongly suggest there could be a public health issue concerning the water sports activities on the river and its foreshore at Antrim.

“And therefore we ask the question of the council what is the water quality classification of the river at the Gateway Centre in relation to the ‘Bathing Water Directives’ and is it being monitored?”

The Trust has also directed the questions to council.

Mr Gregg added: “Water quality is difficult to assess due to the changing environments and a water sample is only good at the point of test .

“Monitoring independently with specific labs over a period of time is more accurate.”

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