Duck hunters advised to be aware of blue-green algae health hazards

With the 2016 duck hunting season just around the corner, SSAA members have been warned about the toxic dangers of blue-green algae throughout Victoria. The state’s duck season opens on Saturday, March 19 and runs until Monday, June 13 but there is already concern about the amounts of algae being monitored around the wetlands of the Murray Valley in particular. The algae is a health risk, which can make humans and animals sick and can be harmful to both people and dogs if accidentally ingested.

Blue-green algae is a type of microscopic plant-like bacteria that inhabits freshwater, coastal and marine environs. The organism photosynthesises as plants do and requires similar constituents such as sunlight, carbon dioxide and nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorous to grow. Already there have been blue-algae outbreaks reported along the Murray, with its prevalence being blamed on the recent long run of warm weather. If the correct conditions are present in still or slow-flowing water, the algae can multiply and form ‘blooms’, which are visible on the surface.

There is limited research on how the blue-green algae may affect ducks but hunters are urged to be cautious over the coming weeks as some studies have shown that toxins can accumulate in the organs of fish and possibly ducks.

Game Management Authority CEO Greg Hyams spelt out some of the potential perils posed by the blue-green algae and outlined precautions that shooters should take. “Blue-green algae blooms can be common at this time of the year as high water temperatures, high light intensity and little rainfall create the perfect environment for the algae to grow,” said Mr Hyams. “The blooms may be visible across the water surface ranging in color from dark-green to yellowish brown and algae may be present on the water surface that can look like a green paint or thick scum.”

A range of safety procedures can be implemented to ensure duck hunters and their retriever dogs are kept safe from the health hazards of blue-green algae. Among the steps that Mr Hyams suggested were for hunters not to wade unless they were wearing undamaged waders. It was also an idea not to consume the water or to let dogs drink. It followed that it was prudent not to eat the offal of ducks taken from contaminated waters or feed it to dogs. If any dog submerses itself in the water, the animal should be washed thoroughly in clean water. However, be aware that simply boiling algal water does not remove toxins from the liquid.

Symptoms related to exposure to blue-green algae can include skin irritation and rashes, gastroenteritis, headache, fevers, muscle weakness, seizures and respiratory failure. If any of these occur, hunters should seek immediate medical attention.

This year the daily bag limit has been reduced to eight birds for the first day of the Victorian season then four ducks per day after that. However, the blue-winged shoveler must not be hunted in 2016.

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