China’s Olympic algae- economic and environmental disruption

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(A boy is playful in the sea, regardless of surrounding Enteromorpha. Photo taken in Qingdao; 07 Aug 2016)

Qingdao, since hosting the sailing competitions for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, has suffered from Enteromorpha eight consecutive years. Breakouts are most common from mid-June to early August when the waters turn warm; at its peak, large areas of green algae cover an area the size of several football fields. In summer 2016, the city alone cleaned up 515,000 tons of Enteromorpha, over half of the one million tons collected within Shandong province, where Qingdao is located (Nanfang 2016).

Tourists, who flood Qingdao for its beaches each summer, must bear with odor deriving from the Enteromorpha; worryingly, they are becoming indifferent to this annual ‘event’. Thick layers of algae have also disrupted shipping in the region (Nanfang 2008). This is no doubt an environmental and economic disaster for Qingdao, considered a leader of the Chinese Blue Economy.

The path to effective policy actions, however, is bumpy. While Qingdao has undertaken efforts to clean up the algae, the root of the problem remains. Conflicting interests with Jiangsu province complicate efforts: expansive seaweed farming in the Yellow Sea is linked to eutrophication (iFeng 2016), thereby cultivating the Enteromorpha blown to Qingdao Bay by monsoons. However, Jiangsu benefits from several billion RMB annually from sales of dried seaweed to Japan. Jiangsu local officials, scholars and businesses refute that seaweed farming brings the green blooms, with some laying blame with other provinces further south (Nanfang 2016). The result is continuous kicking of the ball, and no solution to the problem.

This May the China State Oceanic Administration set up a coordination group of Jiangsu, Shandong and Qingdao officials aimed at bridging gaps in regional governance to fight Enteromorpha. One should hope the group takes immediate action, otherwise Qingdao, named after its breath-taking green nature, will have to reconsider the meaning of green.

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(Forklift truck cleaned up and piled Enteromorpha on the beach. Photo taken in Qingdao, 24 July 2016)


Shi (Mandy) Lai is a second year master’s student in Public Administration at the London School of Economics. She previously studied Political Science and Public Policy at the City University of Hong Kong and the Michigan State University. Before coming to the LSE, she worked in Brussels to advise clients in the UK and U.S. on financial services regulations of the European Union. She also worked as a summer analyst on Chinese agriculture and marine energy policies.

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