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Boat protest over Brazilian Olympic venue

August 9, 2015

Yachts and fishing boats have sailed into Rio de Janeiro's Olympic sailing venue to protest the authorities' failure to tackle severe pollution. Olympic athletes are already preparing for the 2016 Summer Games.

Brasilien Verschmutzung Guanabara-Bucht in Rio
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Sayao

Thirty boats of all sizes sailed across Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay to protest contamination at the venue where the 2016 Summer Olympic sailing events will be held.

Sergio Ricardo, a founder of Living Bay, the group organizing the protest, said on Saturday: "Recent studies demonstrate that the quality of the bay's water is very polluted and that there is a risk not only for the Olympic athletes, but also for the population."

Sailboats, schooners, tourist boats, canoes and fishing boats made the short sea trip from the Marina da Gloria on Guanabara Bay to Urca, a neighborhood located at the foot of Rio's iconic Sugarloaf mountain to publicize their protest.

The protesters sounded foghorns, blew rescue whistles and chanted "baia viva!" or "the bay lives!"

Untreated sewage

Environmentalists say a majority of Rio's sewage is sent untreated into Guanabara. Dozens of rivers also deliver trash into the bay. According to Ricardo "there is more than one-meter thick layer of plastic at the bottom" of some areas of Guanabara.

In the bid to host the Summer Games, Rio promised to cut pollution by 80 percent. Officials now concede this will not be possible. Only one of eight planned treatment plants has been built to filter waste from nearby rivers.

"It was propaganda," Ricardo said, "a completely unrealistic goal."

The protesters said the run-up to the Olympics was a unique opportunity to pressure the government into cleaning up the bay under a program which has been running, with little effect, for twenty years.

AFP reported that inside Marina da Gloria on Saturday, raw sewage and toilet paper could be seen pouring from city drains.

Nearly 1,400 athletes will come into contact with water contaminated by sewage as they sail in Guanabara Bay, swim off Copacabana Beach, and canoe and row on the brackish waters of Rodrigo de Freitas Lake in August next year.

Hundreds of athletes are due to take part in Olympic trial events this month.

jm/bk (AFP, AP)