Sailors are used to surviving blustery winds or tumultuous seas, and at this Olympics, they'll have another obstacle to overcome: algae.
This June 1, an unprecedented algae bloom hit the waters around Qingdao, covering 5,000 square miles and 32 percent of the area that's supposed to be used for the Olympic sailing competition.
Right now, the algae is so thick that even rowing boats have difficulty crossing the bay, and manual removal is the only way to clear the vast clumps from the water. Over 1,000 fishing boats and over 10,000 workers have been trying to clean it up, but as you can see from the pictures, this will be no easy task.
While this bloom is the worst in recent memory, considering the current environmental conditions in Qingdao, it's not surrprising. The warmer waters, extra rainfall, and extra nutrients, often caused by pollution, create a perfect climate for algae to grow. Efforts to improve the environment have been difficult in this booming coastal city, where sewage and industrial chemicals are often dumped into the water.
Wang Shulian, vice director of Qingdao Ocean and Fishing Bureau, says that the algae bloom has no "substantial link" to the water quality, but that hasn't slowed efforts to remove it. Workers have already removed over 100,000 tons of algae, paying special attention to the Olympic venue.
Although the Olympics have raised the profile of Qingdao's algae outbreak, the risk for sailors pales in comparison to the risk of Qingdao's residents and wildlife. Some algae produce toxins, which can be harmful or even fatal to humans. In the case of a red tide, which is also caused by algae, consumption of shellfish can be deadly.
Cleaning up China's environment in time for the Olympics has been a noble, if somewhat idealistic goal for this August. I'm pretty sure this isn't exactly the "green" China was going for in its aspirations of a "green Olympics." Perhaps a "blue" Olympics should have been specified instead, encouraging azure seas and even baby blue skies.
In any case, even though the sailors might not enjoy perfectly pristine waters during competition, they'll definitely have some dramatic stories of battling the elements upon returning home. More importantly, the Olympic buzz has drawn international attention to China's water problems and the urgent need to clean them up.