July 16, 2008

China Says Olympic Waters Are Clear of Green Algae

Olympic athletes competing in waters off the east coast can literally expect smooth sailing in August, a Chinese official said Tuesday.

The official, Lin Hong, said from the coastal city of Qingdao that efforts to clean up a large amount of green algae had been successful.

Barriers have been erected to keep the algae from infiltrating waters where Olympic sailing events will be held, said Lin, spokeswoman for the Qingdao Emergency Center on Algae Disposal.

Photos posted on sohu.com, a popular Chinese Web portal, showed waters supposedly around Qingdao that are devoid of algae. While the sea there could not be described as azure, it appeared clear enough for boating.

The algae first showed up in significant amounts in late June and threatened the Olympic sailing competitions. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, reported at the time that the algae covered a third of the coastal waters designated for the Summer Games.

Local officials then began to scrub out the algae by mid-July. They tapped into China's greatest asset: manpower. News reports estimated that as many as 20,000 people volunteered or were ordered to participate in the operation. One thousand boats began scooping algae out of the Yellow Sea.

Sailing teams from abroad that were training off Qingdao's waters at the end of June were photographed seemingly stuck in bright green muck.

"The training of the sailing athletes was influenced by the algae, but it never stopped, and now their training is back to normal," Lin said.

One photograph posted Sunday on sohu.com showed five wooden skiffs, probably fishing vessels, cutting through clear waters. A photograph posted the next day showed people raking algae along the beach.

Lin said that by Sunday, there was no trace of algae in the waters designated for Olympic events. By 3:30 p.m. Monday, she said, volunteers and workers had cleared a total of 419,000 tons of algae from the ocean and 333,000 tons from the seashore.

The Olympic events area is now enclosed in an aquarium-like seal. A 32,000-meter, or 105,000-foot, barrier of the kind usually used to block oil spills had been set up around those waters, Lin added. A second barrier, made of netting, had been placed outside that perimeter. A third net "wall" was being set up by Dagong Island in the sea.

It is unclear what caused the algae to bloom around Qingdao.

Many Chinese coastal cities dump untreated sewage into the sea, and rivers and tributaries emptying into coastal waters are often contaminated with high levels of nitrates from agricultural and industrial runoff.

But officials in Qingdao said in late June that pollution and poor water quality did not have a "substantial link" to the current outbreak, according to Xinhua. Instead, scientists blamed the increased rainfall and warmer waters in the Yellow Sea.