Dead fish are pictured next to rowing athletes carrying their boat before a training session at the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon in Rio de Janeiro on April 13, 2015. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Dead fish are choking Rio's waterways, and the government doesn't seem to be doing much about it.

Sad for fish, bad for gold-medal hopefuls: Waterways in Rio de Janeiro slated to host Olympic rowing and canoeing events in 2016 are choked with dead twait shad.

Pollution and sewage problems have long plagued Brazil's lagoons, bays, and beaches. But in recent months, massive die-offs have left a thick layer of silver-grey fish bobbing on the surface of several water bodies. It's smelly for passers-by, hazardous for Olympian boaters, and for Brazilian scientists, another example of the government's lackadaisical approach to ecological health.

A Brazilian biologist explained to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro that a lack of oxygen and algae blooms have increased the toxicity of Rio's waterways: With or without fish, they are not safe to swim in. "You can row in the water," the biologist said. "Just don't fall in," added Garcia-Navarro .

Though teams are working to clear the shad, Rio mayor Eduardo Paes has brushed aside claims that they pose a safety threat. In fact, he said he'd swim in Rio's contaminated waters any time.

But a massive fish die-off should raise eyebrows around Olympic water sports safety. The Brazilian government has made it clear there is "not going to be time" to make complete improvements to water quality before the summer games.

It's just one of many controversies surrounding Rio's mega-events, next year's and last's. A local organizing group estimates some 3,507 families have been displaced from their homes due to World Cup and Olympics development. Olympic Park construction workers have gone on strike for better conditions. No wonder the city's Olympic preparations have been dubbed "the worst ever" by the IOC—and boy, is that saying a lot.

Dead fish are pictured next to a rowing athlete as his coach helps him to clean up his paddle during a training session at the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon in Rio de Janeiro on April 13, 2015 (REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes)
Dead fish are pictured on the banks of the Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro on February 24, 2015. (REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes )
Dead fish are pictured next to rowing athletes as they attend a training session at the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon in Rio de Janeiro on April 13, 2015. (REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: bicyclists in Paris during a transit strike in December.
    Transportation

    Paris Mayor: It's Time for a '15-Minute City'

    In her re-election campaign, Mayor Anne Hidalgo says that every Paris resident should be able to meet their essential needs within a short walk or bike ride.

  2. photo: a wallet full of Yen bills.
    Life

    Japan’s Lost-and-Found System Is Insanely Good

    If you misplace your phone or wallet in Tokyo, chances are very good that you’ll get it back. Here’s why.

  3. Equity

    What Mike Bloomberg Got Wrong About Redlining and the Financial Crisis

    Comments about New Deal-era housing discrimination made by presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg echo a familiar narrative about minority homeowners.

  4. Equity

    The Presidential Candidates that Mayors Support

    Big-city mayors favor Mike Bloomberg after his late entry into the race, while leaders in smaller cities have lined up behind Pete Buttigieg.

  5. photo: Masdar City in Abu Dhabi
    Environment

    What Abu Dhabi’s City of the Future Looks Like Now

    At the UN’s World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, attendees toured Masdar City, the master-planned eco-complex designed to show off the UAE’s commitment to sustainability.

×