Filthy Rio Water a Threat at 2016 Olympics

Cleaning up the dangerously polluted Guanabara Bay in the next year for sailing events is the biggest challenge facing Rio de Janeiro Olympic organizers.

Cleaning up the dangerously polluted Guanabara Bay in the next year for sailing events is the biggest challenge facing Rio de Janeiro Olympic organizers, IOC chief Thomas Bach said Wednesday.

"This is first of all the cleaning of the bay," Bach said when asked about the problems remaining for the Rio Games which start on August 5 next year.

He said Rio organizers had proposed action at an International Olympic Committee executive meeting in Kuala Lumpur following reports of floating debris, raw sewage and dangerous bacteria in Guanabara, where the sailing and windsurfing will be held.

Photos: Trashy Beaches are Everywhere

Bach said some cleaning measures had started and others "will be applied to the bay just before the Olympic Games to make sure there is the safety and the health of the athletes."

Some competitors have demanded that the sailing and windsurfing competition should be moved to cleaner waters. But this has been rejected by Rio organizers who say that a fleet of trash collecting boats will protect sailors during the Olympics.

Organizers have acknowledged that the bay will not be cleaned in time for the Olympics but say it will be safe enough for competition to go ahead.

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Bach said there was also an urgent need to get the international broadcasting center ready on time and for public transport arrangements to be completed.

Bach, who said he would attend a rowing test event in Rio on the one-year countdown day, told reporters that Rio had "acknowledged" the challenges and the IOC was "confident that we will have a great Games."

The polluted Guanabara Bay in Rio, Brazil.

Intro Recently, Typhoon Vincent knocked cartons into the sea off the coast of Hong Kong. The cartons were filled with bags of small plastic pellets that are now spread far and wide across Hong Kong's beaches. The pellets themselves are non-toxic, but they are prone to absorbing toxins from the surrounding environment. If they are eaten by fish after they've absorbed toxins, the fish's flesh will become toxic as well. Once this happens it's a short jump to us consuming the now-toxic fish. Complex interactions like this are common in nature, but often overlooked by the media. Fish eating our discarded or spilled trash largely goes unnoticed, but it can have dire effects on many populations of humans and animals. We need to pay attention to all the ways and places where this trash leaves our hands and enters the ecosystem.

Gatahan, Malaysia The beaches of Gatahan in Malaysia would be a far more beautiful sight without the plastics. One good storm and these will wash out and join their bretheren in the Pacific Garbage Patch. Bottles like these were made from the plastic pellets currently sitting on the beaches of Hong Kong.

London Olympics Now, at the 2012 London Olympic Games, the beaches of England are crowded with spectators. Their trash, if not properly disposed of, could easily end up in the English Channel or be washed out to sea.

English Beaches Outside of the Olympics, other English beaches are experiencing events. Here, the Relentless Boardmasters pro-surfing competition is only part of a five-day surf-skate and music festival. Any rubbish left behind could easily spread to the surrounding waterways.

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California It's not as easy as "don't be a litterbug." Here in California, a popular surfing destination, trash has piled up on a beach due to storms and swollen seas. The ocean swells will pull any trash left on the beach, but as mudslides often pull trash from other parts of the coastline, it's not just the beaches that can affect the oceans.

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"Turtle Sanctuary" Our Editor-in-Chief snapped this photo in Aruba. She writes on her blog,"At the top of the steps leading down to this 'sanctuary' was a poster talking about the importance of beaches like these in the Arikok National Park to breeding sea turtles." "When I went down to the beach, I found a headless doll, plastic bottles, flip-flops, a sneaker -- it was a joke how much garbage was there."

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Goa, India It's not just the West where trash can collect on the beaches. Here a beach in Goa, India, garbage and litter from plastic and glass lie entangled in vegetation. If washed into the ocean, the glass will eventually break down and return to sand, but the plastic will live for hundreds of thousands of years, likely finding its way to the "Great Pacific Patch."

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Isle of Skye Trash dropped from one beach can find its way to other, more visible places than the Pacific Garbage Patch. Here, a beach on the Isle of Skye in Scotland is covered in trash that washed ashore.

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Hidden Trash Even if we attempt to dispose of our trash "properly" we can still affect the world's oceans. Plastic bags concealed in an old landfill are revealed as the edge is eroded away. This island in the United Kingdom will eventually begin to lose its long-hidden trash into the sea. Then, as sea levels rise around the world and weather becomes stormier, many areas with landfills near the water will do the same as they experience greater rates of coastal erosion.

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Passing on the Trash This small island in the Philippines is an attractive island, but it doesn't keep it from accumulating trash. If the residents of Hong Kong fail to clean the pellets from their beaches, the Olympic crowds toss their trash in the wrong place, or a storm washes plastic into the seas off California, eventually it will end up tainting these pristine beaches. If we're not careful, instead of digging for coins and enjoying a days catch on a beach vacation, we'll be digging for old water bottles and eating a fish that consumed those pellets.