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Sad And Smelly: Massive Fish Die-Off At Rio's 2016 Olympic Site


In Brazil, preparations for next year's Olympics have been panned as the worst ever. But recently, the International Olympic Committee said it's happy with how things are progressing, except for, well, something a bit fishy in Rio. That city has been dealing with a massive fish die-off, and it's happening in the waters where Olympic rowing and canoeing events will be held. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has more.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: I'm standing on the shore of Rio de Janeiro's lagoon. This is one of the most picturesque parts of the city. There are green mountains circling this big body of water ringed by apartment buildings. It's just beautiful until you look down. There are dead fish in the water. So far, over 50 tons have been collected. And in front of me, there are two eco-boats collecting even more. And did I mention the smell?

PERRIERA DA SILVA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "It's been awful," says drink seller Cristiano Perriera da Silva. He says, "it's gotten better in recent days. Before, you couldn't even stand here. People were crossing the streets to get away from the lagoon. What's happened is so sad." Cristina Castelo Branco is an associate professor of aquatic ecology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

CRISTINA CASTELO BRANCO: This is a stressed lagoon. We have some problems with oxygen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Basically, the fish were killed because of a lack of oxygen in the water. She says there are a lot of reasons for that, environmental stress among them. There've been algae blooms in the water that have increased the water's toxicity - bad for the fish, but also bad for those training on the lagoon.

BRANCO: You could not swim in lagoon that situation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The sanitary situation in the lagoon is bad, and you - it wouldn't be advisable to swim there?

BRANCO: To swim. You can row in the water.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just don't fall in.

BRANCO: Yes (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Many in the scientific community are blaming the city government for not addressing the problem. And this follows worries about the Guanabara Bay, where the sailing competition will be held. Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, dismissed those concerns in an interview with NPR, saying he would swim in those contaminated waters anytime.


EDUARDO PAES: Yes, for sure, for sure. I'm going to lose some weight, and then I'll show you that.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: He hasn't commented if he would do the same in Rio's lagoon. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.