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Mark Ralston, Getty Images
Sailors remove algae from a beach in Qingdao,China, on July 4. The algae bloom has become an unexpected nightmare for Olympic organizers.

QINGDAO, China — When Beijing officials promised a "green Olympics" for 2008, they meant an environmentally friendly Summer Games, not the invasion of green algae clogging the bays of Qingdao, site of this month's sailing events.

It took an army — or, better yet, the Chinese navy — to lead the defense against the invasion of the stinky stuff in the seas surrounding Qingdao.

With a population of 8 million, Qingdao is a laid-back coastal resort city that at the end of the 19th century was a Qing dynasty concession to Germany. It occupied the area until prior to World War I — hence, the Western European architectural influence still existing in Old Qingdao and the renowned Tsingtao Brewery.

Self-labeled as "Sailing City," Qingdao invested in massive infrastructure upgrades and beautification projects, including a new airport, a new marina and more apartments, malls and parks throughout the city.

Qingdao also developed partnerships with local companies, in which the city donated 1,000 boats to 36 local schools to help promote the sport of sailing.

In short, the city was excited to welcome 400 Olympic sailors from 62 nations as well as the accompanying media and spectators.

Then, all of a sudden in early July, an unusual — and unusually large — algae bloom appeared in the waters off Qingdao.

Mayor Xia Geng reported green algae infesting 32 percent of the Olympic course waters, with the deployment of 10,000 troops and volunteers and 1,400 fishing boats to scoop up and haul away the algae from off the beaches and out of the waters.

After the clean-up, postcard conditions — sunny weather with puffy clouds — returned two weeks ago to Qingdao.

But on its heels came a return of the algae as well — although not of previous proportions. Strong winds of 25 to 30 knots and accompanying Typhoon No. 7 Fung Wong blew more algae back into the waters, sending military workers and volunteers back into action.

City and Olympic officials are hoping weather manipulation efforts will help provide optimum sailing conditions, including trying to prevent the rains that pestered Qingdao this past week.

Also of concern are Qingdao's August averages of just light breezes and stronger-than-preferred currents.

Algae isn't the only thing to infest the waters off Qingdao. To help with Olympic security efforts, Olympic Harbor also is home now to remote-controlled underwater robots, divers and underwater video surveillance.

Local merchants have complained there are more military trucks on the beaches and boardwalks than visiting tourists.

Still, Qingdao is ramping up its Olympic spirit and enthusiasm with the start of the Olympics now less than a week away.

A prime example was evident in a supermarket not far from the Olympic marina. There, a Japanese athlete decked out in national attire was followed not only by a handful of Japanese media chronicling his every move and purchase, but by an additional dozen uniformed store managers in tow, snapping multiple photos of "a celebrity" on their premises.

And all was not lost this summer with the algae offshore of Qingdao. While it threatened the Olympic competition, the green algae did boost local tourism averages — a number of Chinese tourists visited Qingdao just to see the rare algae influx.


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