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China says it has cleared algae from Olympic sailing venue

The Chinese government says that it has cleared away the algae that had been blocking the Olympic sailing course in the eastern city of Qingdao.

By Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor / July 16, 2008

Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers remove algae from a beach near the Olympic Sailing Center in the city of Qingdao on July 5, 2008. The bright green algae that has choked parts of the Olympic course has drawn an unwelcome spotlight on China's environmental record and prompted an ongoing cleanup effort by more than 10,000 people, backed by boats, bulldozers, and the military.

AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON/NEWSCOM

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The Chinese government says that it has cleared away the algae that had been blocking the Olympic sailing course in the eastern city of Qingdao.

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Using shovels, rakes, pitchforks, and their bare hands, some 10,000 People's Liberation Army soldiers and volunteers worked to remove the green slime from the coastline ahead of the Tuesday deadline. A boom and netting have been set up to prevent more of the foul-smelling, verdant muck from entering the area.

"The sailing event, which will be held in more than 20 days, will not be threatened by the algae," Olympic official Wang Wei said to China Daily. He told the state-run publication that some 303 athletes from 33 countries practiced sailing at the venue on Tuesday.

"Photos posted on sohu.com, a popular Chinese Web portal, showed waters supposedly around Qingdao devoid of algae," reported the New York Times, without linking directly to the photos. "While the sea there could not be described as azure, it appeared clear enough for boating."

Nobody knows exactly where the the thick, heavy weed came from. It began appearing in late June, eventually covering almost one-third of the sailing venue. China Daily claims the emerald gunk floated in from the Yellow Sea.

According to Xinhua, China's official news agency, Hein Verbruggen, the chairman of the International Olympics Committee coordination commission called the algae bloom "an unavoidable natural disaster."

But others aren't so sure. In a June 30 story, the International Herald Tribune reported that the algae could be a result of human activity:

Water quality has been a concern for the sailing events, given that many coastal Chinese cities dump untreated sewage into the sea. At the same time, rivers and tributaries emptying into coastal waters are often contaminated with high levels of nitrates from agricultural and industrial runoff. These nitrates contribute to the red tides of algae that often bloom along sections of China's coastline.

Whatever the cause of the virescent sludge, it's not China's only environmental problem as it prepares for the Games, which begin August 8. As I wrote last week, Beijing is still failing to meet international air quality standards, posing a health risk for outdoor endurance athletes. In the coming weeks, the city plans to take drastic steps, such as halting construction, closing factories, and halving the number of cars on the street, to improve air quality.

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