Thousands of Oysters Threaten Olympic Events in Tokyo Bay

by Jon D. B.

Tokyo Bay has a massive “shellfish problem” – and just in time to muck up an important 2020 (now 2021) Summer Olympic Games venue.

If you’ve ever been to Tokyo, then you know how remarkably efficient and clean the city can be. While the waters of Tokyo Bay can be less, so, they were nevertheless prepared for the Summer Olympics ahead of schedule. Or they were, at least.

Tokyo Bay’s Sea Forest Waterway will play host to both the rowing and canoeing events this July and August. But now there are literal tons of oysters putting everything in jeopardy.

According to the BBC, “massive numbers” of oysters are attaching themselves to the Olympic floats. These floats are in place “to stop waves bouncing back across the water and on to the athletes,” and are of vital importance for the athletes and a proper, safe, and fair competition.

“It would be unacceptable if they sink,” one Tokyo Olympic official tells Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Indeed, as the World Rowing rule book states: “The running of the race must not be influenced by natural or artificial waves… The banks must be so designed as to absorb and not to reflect waves.”

As for how the discovery came about, Olympic officials began investigating once the floats started to sink into the bay. Now, the effort to rid the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is proving a costly one – both in time and money.

Oyster Obstacle: Tokyo Olympic Events in Costly Danger

“Equipment laid over a span of 5.6km (3.4mi) either had to be dragged ashore and repaired, or cleaned in place by teams of divers. In total, they removed 14 tonnes of oysters,” the BBC explains. That’s the equivalent of 30,000 pounds of oysters.

Yet “the same wave-dissipating system is in operation at the speedboat racing site in Heiwajima (in Tokyo’s Ota Ward) with no problems,” another Olympic official tells Asahi Shimbun.

Regardless – the situation in Tokyo Bay is becoming dire for the 2020 Summer Games. Olympic organizers had to hire divers, crews, and equipment to remove the pesky sea creatures. All in all, it cost $1.28 million for this first removal. This is just thousands shy of the city’s annual budget for maintaining the canal. And it is entirely possible the oysters will simply come right back.

But the loss is greater, still. Officials found the shellfish to be magaki oysters – an incredibly popular (and profitable) delicacy in winter-time.

“We did not consider consuming them,” the same official continues for the trade. “That would entail safety checks. More important is that we do not want to grow oysters but work to contain them.”

Perhaps the added cost of safety checks would nullify any profits from the oysters. Or maybe the Olympic staff simply has bigger fish to fry.

Tokyo’s municipal government is considering electrolyzing the bay’s seawater to prevent further damage. How this would affect marine life at large, however, is unknown. With any luck, Tokyo can get its oyster disaster under control without harm to the Olympics – or the environment.