Tags: rio | garbage | boats | 2016 | olympics

Rio Garbage Boats: Can They Clear Debris in Time for Olympics?

By Michael Mullins   |   Tuesday, 07 Jan 2014 11:25 AM

Garbage boats in Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay are navigating the polluted waterway, in an attempt to remove visible garbage that has built up over the years as the South American nation prepares for the 2016 Olympic Games.

In total, there are three floating garbage vessels that the local government has nicknamed "eco-boats." The boats are tasked with removing trash in the same waters as where fishing vessels catch grouper and where in two years several Olympic boating events are scheduled to be held.

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"Our objective is to not to have floating garbage in Guanabara Bay," said Gelson Serva, who heads the state government's latest bay cleanup program, the Associated Press reported.

"Those who live around the bay can already notice a difference over the past two years," Serva added.

The three mid-sized boats began operating on Friday and each weigh 4 tons. The boats reportedly have the capacity to hold 37 square feet of trash.

The boats cost $842 a day to operate and will be joined by six additional smaller boats as well as one barge by March, according to Serva.

Critics of the so-called "eco-boats" argue the vessels will only scratch the surface of Guanabara Bay's pollution problem, which primarily stems from tons of untreated raw sewage.

"At this point, for the patient that is Guanabara Bay, over-the-counter medicines won't do. What's needed now is chemotherapy, radiotherapy, definitive action," Mario Moscatelli, a biologist and environmentalist, told the AP.

"This sort of manual collection is great for photos," he said of the boats gathering trash, "but it doesn't even begin to address the root of the problem."

The government, however, argues that the garbage boats are just one facet of their strategy to lessen the pollution in the bay, which also includes an $840 million project to expand Rio de Janeiro's sewage treatment system.

The bay, as well as surrounding rivers and other waterways, has reportedly become lined with sludge, due to the fact that just 30 percent of Rio's sewage is treated. Approximately six million people live in Rio de Janeiro.

An Associated Press analysis in November of more than a decade's worth of Rio state government tests on waterways across the city show fecal coliform pollution levels far above those considered safe by Brazilian or U.S. law.

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