The discovery of a brain-eater in a popular Hunter Valley lake has forced the lake’s immediate and permanent closure to the public – a major blow to the local tourism industry.
Naegleria fowleri, an organism also known as the brain-eating amoeba, lurks in the waters of Lake Liddell, located between Muswellbrook and Singleton.
Lake Liddell, a man-made lake, was constructed for cooling Liddell power station, commissioned in 1971 and once the backbone of the NSW electricity system. The lake, which also stores the water the power station needs, has for years served as a water recreation area and habitat for wildlife. Unfortunately, the wildlife has now been found to include brain-eating amoeba.
AGL Macquarie, the power company that controls the lake, confirmed on Friday it had decided to permanently close the lake to protect public health.
AGL Macquarie general manager Ian Brooksbank told the Newcastle Herald that the decision to close the lake permanently “has been a difficult one”.
“We have been meeting with the Lake Liddell Recreation Area Reserve Trust, Muswellbrook Shire Council and the NSW Government to work through the implications of Lake Liddell’s permanent public closure.”
Discussions would be held with all relevant Hunter Region tourism bodies, Brooksbank confirmed.
The problem is confined to the lake. Lake Liddell Recreation Area is still operational and open to campers and users of GJs by the Lake, a popular family-run business, owned and operated by Ged and Julie Elphinstone. GJs by the Lake offers fixed and mobile laser tag, indoor skydiving, kayak and paddle board hire, a rock-climbing wall and a function room for all occasions.
Ged Elphinstone told the paper the company was very disappointed by the closure of the lake, but it would “not stop us from ensuring GJs continues to grow. People can still enjoy the laser tag, indoor skydiving and rock-climbing activities on offer”.
Naegleria fowleri is a threat only if you enter the water. Normally, the organism eats bacteria, but if humans inhale water containing the organism through the nose (while diving or swimming in the lake for instance) Naegleria fowleri will switch to using the human brain as its food source. Symptoms appear after a few days.
As Wikipedia succinctly puts it: “Once the trophozoites ingest brain tissue and symptoms begin to appear, death will usually occur within two weeks.”
Written by Peter Needham