Chinese mobilize to quell "green nightmare"
China's latest Olympics nightmare is a vast algae bloom that covers one-third of the sea where the world's best sailors are supposed to...
The Associated Press
QINGDAO, China — China's latest Olympics nightmare is a vast algae bloom that covers one-third of the sea where the world's best sailors are supposed to be competing in about a month. Athletes call it the blob, the carpet, the fairway.
"We almost think of it as land," said Carrie Howe, a member of the U.S. team and her three-person squad's unofficial algae remover. During practice, she dips her hand into the goo three or four times an hour to remove it from the rudder.
When it collects shaggily on the boat's tow rope, she and her teammates refer to it as "the dog." They've named it Hickory.
Chinese officials are trying to make the stuff go away. Hundreds of soldiers cleaned it up by hand in a seaside park and beach Wednesday. About 10,000 citizens were doing the same along the shore, while more than 1,200 fishing and other boats hauled it in by net.
"We all need to pitch in," said Gao Shaofan, a massage-parlor employee who was stuffing the algae into plastic sacks with her co-workers. "This is the worst it's ever been that we know."
Chinese officials promised at a news conference Wednesday that the Olympics competition area, all 19 square miles of it, will be clear of algae before races begin Aug. 9.
"Actually, we don't have a backup," said Qu Chun, the sailing-competition manager.
The sailing teams had known Qingdao, a charming port on China's east coast known for its Tsingtao beer, would be a difficult venue: The lower-than-ideal winds. The stronger-than-ideal current. The soupy fog that sometimes keeps teams off the water.
Then came the algae, which one Chinese official at the news conference, Lu Zhenyu, called a "natural disaster." First detected in May, it recently swelled to stretches of up to a few miles long.
Chinese officials and some experts blamed it on a combination of factors, including warmer seas, winds from the south and an "exotic" strain of algae from farther down the coast.
You could eat it if you want, they added, saying Japanese and Koreans do.
"In itself, it's not harmful," said Fei Xiugang, who described himself as a seaweed expert. "It absorbs carbon dioxide. It actually cleans the water."
But Wang Liqing, a marine-biology professor at Shanghai Ocean University, said in a phone interview that the bloom could be caused by pollution, which deposits excessive nutrients in the water and causes algae to grow at abnormal rates. China's east coast is highly industrial.
Whatever the cause of the algae, the sailors — who didn't become Olympians through negative thinking — tried to describe it in not-so-terrible terms.
"A very new, very large variable," Howe said.
"Oh my goodness," said Karyn Gojnich, of the Australian team.
"A green nightmare," said Andreas Kosuratopoulos, of the Greek team, dropping the Olympian guard.
U.S. sailor Andrew Campbell wrote in his blog last week: "We've watched the Dutch Yngling team, coach boat and three boats in tow get stuck so badly they had to be hooked and hauled out by a local fishing trawler."
Scattered patches of the algae were beginning to stink, some sailors said.
Chinese officials appealed to Qingdao's civic pride to fight the algae bloom, with the goal of clearing the competition zone by July 15.
The officials also promised a system of nets to hold the algae back from the Olympics sailing area. They also hope winds from the north will blow the algae away — and soon.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 10:01 AM
Rebels tighten hold on Libya oil port
UPDATE - 09:29 AM
Reality leads US to temper its tough talk on Libya
UPDATE - 09:38 AM
2 Ark. injection wells may be closed amid quakes
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.