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)

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