Northern Ireland has some of the most beautiful rivers, lakes and coastal waters anywhere in Europe. NIEA (Northern Ireland Environment Agency) staff undertake a variety of roles to monitor our valuable water resources. One of their main focuses is assessing the water quality in our rivers.
Water pollution is anything that enters a waterway that has the potential to cause damage or harm to humans or the plants and animals that live there. Many of the day to day things we use have the potential to cause harm e.g. waste water from houses (toilets/bathrooms), garden sprays, paint, oil as well as discharges from agriculture and industry.
There is a wide variety of water invertebrates that live in our rivers, lakes and coastal waters and all of them are important in maintaining aquatic ecosystems. Read this excerpt from our neighbours in Scotland on how important invertebrates are:
Many invertebrates are sensitive to water pollution. These invertebrates can act like the canary in the coalmine for water pollution. Simply by recording their presence or absence we can often tell how healthy or stressed our rivers are.
Because of how inter-connected our rivers are, pollution in one stream can impact the water quality for quite some distance downstream and even coastal areas. The changes to plant, insect and fish life that can occur when water quality is negatively affected can impact the entire food chain including kingfishers and otters. Through regular water quality monitoring, the NIEA can assess the health of rivers and lakes over time.
They can take a sample of invertebrates living in a river and identify what species are present to get a quick view of how healthy a river or lake is.
So the next time you look at a river or lake, give a thought to the bugs and maybe have a look to see how healthy your local environment might be.