37 tons of dead fish removed from Rio Olympic rowing venue

World Today

Rowing athletes Diego Nazario, back, and Emanuel Dantas Borges, train in the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, surrounded by dead small silvery fish, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, April 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana) Rowing athletes Diego Nazario, back, and Emanuel Dantas Borges, train in the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, surrounded by dead small silvery fish, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, April 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Fish continued to die by the ton Thursday in a Rio de Janeiro lake that’s slated to host Olympic rowing events, while city authorities and biologists argued about the cause of the die-off.

Rio’s Comlurb waste management company said that as of Wednesday night, it had collected more than 37 tons of dead fish from the Rodrigo de Freitas lake since the die-off started late last week.

Such die-offs are common in Rio, where rivers, lakes and even the ocean are blighted by raw sewage and garbage. In February, twaite shad died en masse in the blighted waters of the Guanabara Bay, where the Olympic sailing events are to be held.

Rio’s environmental secretariat insisted Thursday that the latest incident is the result of a sudden change in water temperature.

“The intense rains that happened last week and a rise in the sea levels led to a spike in the (sea) water entering the lake, causing a thermal shock,” it said in a statement, reporting that water temperature in the lake fell by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in a short period of time.

However, several scientists rejected that explanation, saying that pollution is really to blame.

Estefan Monteiro da Fonseca, an oceanographer at the Fluminense Federal University, said the official explanation “makes no sense.”

“The lake continues receiving large quantities of sewage,” he said, adding that the it “has large concentrations of sulfur because of the organic material dumped into it, and depending on the winds, that material rises to the surface and kills fish.”

Rio’s water quality has become one of the most contentious issues heading into the 2016 Olympics. Authorities have long said that the games would be the catalyst for a major cleanup of the city’s waterways, but as the showcase sporting event approaches with few improvements, authorities are now admitting that the Olympic promises won’t be met.

Rio Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao acknowledged earlier this week “there’s not going to be time” to finish the cleanup ahead of the games, suggesting it might wrap up by the end of 2018 instead.

Report by The Associated Press