Home Energy and Environment Pristine Nature Sacrificed to the Sochi Olympics

Pristine Nature Sacrificed to the Sochi Olympics

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With the 2014 Winter Olympics about to begin at Sochi, Russia, the Russian government is getting a lot of bad press.  And rightly so.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is taking heat for his government’s human rights abuses, its opposition to gay rights, its treatment of Olympic construction workers and local Sochi residents, and its current efforts to silence a variety of protestors who are speaking out against the government’s actions.

All the issues I have heard the protestors raise are important. But there is another issue, at least as important, that has been getting far less attention. And that is the destruction of massive swaths of pristine, globally important natural environments to make way for this year’s Winter Games.

While, unfortunately, every Olympic Games involves destruction of land in the building of sporting venues, housing, etc., the Russians’ preparations for the Sochi Olympics are off the charts in destructiveness.

Part of the problem is the location of the 2014 Winter Games. The Black Sea resort city of Sochi is at the edge of the Western Caucasus World Historic Site. This Site “is the only large mountain area in Europe that hasn’t experienced significant human impact,” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is a place where endangered, rare, endemic and relic animal and plant species are concentrated. The Site includes four-fifths of the ecosystems of the Caucasus, which is a world center for plant diversity, a UNESCO document states.

Of course such an environmentally significant and sensitive area should never have been chosen for the Olympics in the first place!

Environmental leaders from around the world pleaded with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to yield to Putin’s intense push to host the Games at Sochi. But Putin was determined, and he made big promises to create a completely ‘green’ Olympics. And the contract that was ultimately signed did include measures to lessen the damage that would inevitably result from Olympic construction. But Russia, the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, and the City of Sochi have all violated those binding environmental stipulations, charges Environmental Watch on the Northern Caucasus (EWNC).

A great deal of the Western Caucasus World Historic Site, including the Sochi National Park within the Site, has been destroyed. Here are some examples of the damage resulting from Olympic construction:

Sensitive Caucasian wetlands, a paradise for more than 60 bird species, including some vulnerable species, has been buried under crushed stone and criss-crossed with irrigation canals.

Brown bears and certain reptiles have disappeared from the areas around the mountain venues.

Illegal dumping of waste has been documented in Sochi National Park. And the construction of power lines has caused landslides in the park.

Of all the damage to the Sochi wilderness, “the river is the biggest shame,” says Igor Chesten, who heads the World Wildlife Fund-Russia. The Mzymta River, which flows from a lake high in the Caucasus down to the Black Sea, was known for its beauty and cascading waterfalls. The Mzymta was also the spawning site for about one-fifth of Russia’s valuable Black Sea salmon. But the high-speed railway and road built along the Mzymta’s unspoiled edge to connect the Sochi airport with upstream ski resorts, have destroyed much of the river’s beauty and all of its value as a fishery. Environmentalists report that the formerly clean, white-water river has been transformed into a controlled waterway, tainted by chemical pollutants and debris, and now devoid of trout and many other fish that formerly thrived in its waters.Event organizers made attempts to ameliorate some of the damage they caused, but not with great success.

For example, Olymstroi, the state corporation overseeing the Olympic construction, planted more trees than they cut down. But, according to Suren Gazaryan, a scientist with EWNC, much of the tree planting was pointless. Planting a bunch of trees could never substitute for the loss of an established forest, which is a complex ecosystem, he explains. Besides, he adds, much of the planting was done by unqualified workers, with large-scale violations of methodology. Most of the planted trees died.

To ‘make up’ for the destruction of sensitive wetland habitat for birds, an “Ornithological Park” was created outside Sochi, complete with benches and artificial ponds. “But there is not a bird in sight,” reports Maria Antonova in YAHOO! SPORTS.

The degree of damage to pristine mountain forest land and to the habitat of so many animal species sickens me. Yet I will watch the Olympics anyway, as I always do. And while I’ll enjoy the beautiful feats on the ice and on the slopes, I will be mindful of the horrible damage that has been done to our planet to bring these Games about.

But I do have an idea for future Olympic Games.

Why should there be a new host city every two years? Why destroy so much of the natural world that surrounds any host city? I suggest that the IOC determine a small group of cities that have already hosted the Olympics and wish to do so again. Let’s rotate the Games among these cities, reuse the sporting venues, hotels, and other infrastructure these cities have already created? Then we won’t continue destroying more of our planet for these biennial extravaganzas?-April Moore

  • 1. Utterly corrupt, including links to organized crime.

    2. Environmentally destructive/disastrous.

    3. Aimed at burnishing the image of an authoritarian a******.

    4. Held in a country that has big-time anti-LGBT policies in place.

    5. They’re even rounding up stray dogs and killing them.

    Screw these Olympics. I urge everyone to boycott it.