Blue green algae sends polar bear swimmers to sea

Polar bear swimmers are heading back to the sea for their traditional New Year’s Day dip after a warning of blue green algae ruled out Elk Lake.

In Victoria, a swim is set for 11 a.m. at Dallas Road bluffs, near the intersection with Cook Street.

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Provincial civil servant Rumon Carter said the inspiration of a friend, an old but unfulfilled promise and a personal love of the sea convinced him it was the right place for a polar bear swim after Elk Lake was ruled out.

“I thought: ‘What the heck — let’s just put the word out, invite some people and do it in the ocean,’ ” he said. “Besides, I think that’s where we should do it, being coastal dwellers.”

Another group from Sidney and the Saanich Peninsula, called the Peninsula Celebration Society, has posted an online notice for a New Year’s Day polar bear swim at noon at the beach off Lochside Drive just south of Tulista Park.

Swimmers dying to brave the icy waters are also meeting at Taylor Beach in Metchosin at 2 p.m. after a run/walk.

Andy MacKinnon, a Metchosin councillor and longtime avid polar bear swimmer, said the event will be the 28th annual such swim in his municipality.

A six-kilometre run and a three-kilometre walk will be open for those who like their icy swim with a bit of a warm up. Runners and walkers are asked to meet at 12:45 at Taylor Beach at the end of Taylor Road.

Elk Lake is the traditional site of the annual polar bear swim, but the Capital Regional District issued a warning on Christmas Eve about the presence of blue green algae and cyanotoxins, the poisons produced by certain bacteria.

Ingesting the toxins can cause severe headaches and abdominal cramps. For dogs, the result can be fatal liver damage.

Typically, the algae appears as a surface scum from November to March, said the CRD. But it is unpredictable and can be found in the water even if no surface scum appears.

To be safe, swimmers are warned to keep away and dog walkers have been advised to keep pets on a leash and not allow them to drink from the lake.

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