By Ian Ransom
QINGDAO, China, July 7 (Reuters) - Thousands of Chinese troops and volunteers should clear unsightly algae from competition areas at the Qingdao Olympic sailing venue by Thursday, an official said.
The picturesque seaside resort in northern China has been embarrassed by a massive algae bloom that has left swathes of offshore waters green and disrupted training for a number of Olympic sailing teams ahead of next month’s Games.
Qingdao, which has despatched 6,000 troops and thousands more volunteers to scoop up the green muck off beaches and offshore, was initially ordered by the Chinese government to remove all algae by July 15.
“We are very optimistic about the clean-up effort,” Qingdao Sailing Committee spokesman Wang Haitao told Reuters on Monday.
“Our plan is to have the algae completely cleaned out by July 10. Our government has ordered us to complete the clean-up by the 15th, but we expect to finish five days ahead of schedule,” Wang said.
Wang said authorities on Monday would complete the placement of 50 km (30 miles) of offshore fencing, designed to block more algae from seeping into the sailing areas.
Sailing events are scheduled to start on Aug. 9.
Algae blooms regularly blight the shores of Qingdao, where Chinese tourists flock in their millions, but local residents say the current bloom is the biggest they have ever seen.
Officials have been at pains to cast the algae bloom as a harmless natural phenomenon, but local residents and scientists have expressed scepticism, blaming industrial pollutants and agricultural run-off for feeding the bloom.
Wang said authorities had already scooped up 300,000 tonnes from local waters and would spare no expense to ensure the sailing competition went ahead smoothly.
“We have very strong support from the government and will achieve this goal at any cost,” Wang said.
Sailors, who last week were tacking to avoid large clumps of algae, on Monday said clean-up efforts had noticeably improved the training area but not completely cleaned it.
“There’s clearly no shortage of effort … There’s still small clumps rather than large islands like before,” Morgan Reeser, a coach with the British team said.
The July 15 deadline does not include the miles of spoiled beaches where troops and volunteers are toiling to remove a seemingly endless supply of the weed.
Tourists expressed gloom at being confined to crowded sections of beach, but some also pitched in with local relief efforts.
“Even though it’s not the holiday I expected, I’m glad to be able to make a contribution,” a Beijing office worker surnamed Zhang said, as his he helped his daughter scoop weed into a hessian sack on the Number One Bathing Beach.
(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
Blog at: http://blogs.reuters.com/china