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Page last updated at 08:28 GMT, Thursday, 3 July 2008 09:28 UK

Tackling Qingdao's invading algae

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Army recruits knee-deep in the algae swamp

By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Qingdao

Young recruits from the People's Liberation Army threw off their shoes and stood knee-deep in the thick green algae that has overwhelmed the Qingdao coastline.

Some had shovels, others used pitchforks, but mostly they worked with their hands to tear up great lumps of the heavy, sodden weed.

More than 10,000 of the recruits have been deployed.

Young soldiers remove the algae in Qingdao
Young soldiers have been mobilised to help with the clean-up

"We're working nine-hour days. I've been here six days, and still more and more of it keeps coming," said one of the soldiers.

With every wave more of the algae comes ashore. Earth-moving equipment has arrived and long mechanical conveyor belts; perhaps they will speed up the progress.

On one of the beaches is holidaymaker Wang Weizhong. The sludge ruined his holiday, and his anticipation of the Olympic Games.

"We are really disappointed," he said. "We had no idea something like this would happen here."

"We came for the pretty scenery, to get a taste of the preparations and excitement of the Olympics," he said.

Map

Locals say the algae has never been so thick here - agricultural and industrial pollution are thought to be responsible.

But China, embarrassed by the most vivid proof yet of its environmental problems, says the algae is a natural occurrence, and blames the sea for being too salty, the sun for being too hot.

At a news conference earlier in the day one official suggested that algae could be good for you.

"The Japanese eat it," she said.

Avoiding algae

It is something that most of the Olympic competitors have never experienced before.

Joe Glanfield and his team-mate Nick Rogers are facing the algae for the first time.

Sailors Joe Glanfield and Nick Rogers
Sailors Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield have been training in the algae

They are competing for Great Britain and won a silver at the last Olympics.

"It does make a difference," said Joe.

"It's my job to look out for patches of algae to avoid, so we don't get it stuck on the boat, which would slow us down."

Alongside is their coach, Hamish Wilcox. He has been sailing these waters for three years. He is in little doubt about the cause of the outbreak.

"There's no denying that there's a lot of sewage flowing out into the bay here," he said.

"Some days it's disgusting, most of it is pretty raw, but there's quite a lot of current here so it does get swept away."

But he thinks the mess will be cleared in time for the Games.

"You can't really beat nature, but if the situation that caused all of this switches off, and they clear up the mess that's already here, then the likelihood is that they'll be OK."

Deadline

Around him are many hundreds of small wooden fishing boats.

But they are not looking for fish - their holds are filled with piles of green algae. They take it ashore and from there it is taken to landfill.

The government is erecting booms and netting out at sea, to stop the algae coming ashore, but it has no answers yet for stopping the weed growing in the first place.

As the banners along the roads proclaim, the army has a two-week deadline to get rid of the slime.

The pressure is on: the Olympics begin in just over a month.




SEE ALSO
Algae invade China Olympic venue
01 Jul 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Beijing's Olympic venues
21 Apr 08 |  Olympics
China to clean up polluted lake
27 Oct 07 |  Asia-Pacific


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