Algae encroaches on Chinese waters ahead of Olympics

China's efforts to offer a "greener" Summer Olympics in Beijing has taken on a whole new meaning, as the sea where the Games' sailing events will be held has been overrun by algae.

About 10,000 volunteers are scooping up the green goo by hand in Qingdao, a port town on China's east coast, while the army has deployed hundreds of soldiers to do the same. More than 1,000 fishing and other vessels are collecting the thick algae with nets, in hopes of clearing the area of algae by July 15.

While algae blooms are not uncommon in China, the latest comes just over a month before sailors from around the world converge on this seaside town to compete in the Games.

"You can't escape. It's around you and you cannot make your proper course. To be honest, it's a big problem," Andreas Kosuratopoules, a member of the Greek sailing team, told CBC News. About 30 Olympic teams have already begun training at Qingdao.

Chinese officials have promised that the algae, which is covering the 50-square-kilometre Olympic competition area, will be gone by the time events begin on Aug. 9, and have proposed a system of nets be used to hold the algae back from the Olympics sailing area, if necessary.

Already, 155 tonnes have been hauled away, Zang Aimin, an executive board member of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, said during a news conference Wednesday.

Some Chinese officials and experts have blamed warmer seas, winds from the south and an "exotic" strain of algae from farther down the coast for the algae. Others suggest it is a result of pollution, which deposits excessive nutrients in the water and causes algae to grow at abnormal rates.

It was first detected in May and is so thick and ropey that one member of the U.S. sailing team said she and her teammates think of it as land.

"A very new, very large variable," said Carrie Howe.

A Chinese volunteer described it as the worst algae outbreak she had ever seen, as she stuffed the carpet-like slime into clear plastic bags.

Unlike previous blooms of algae, this one is not believed to be toxic, according to a self-described seaweed expert who spoke at the news conference.

China is hosting the Olympic Games from Aug. 8-24, and has already said it will take measures to reduce pollution and improve air quality, including halting construction and heavy industry.

With files from the Associated Press

Copyright © 2008 CBC News

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