A construction barge slated to install the judging tower for the Olympic surfing event at Teahupo’o has reportedly already broken off pieces of the beach’s coral reef. According to Reuters, the event took place during a test of the barge on Friday.

Save Teahupo’o Reef, a group of locals, surfers and environmental NGOs, posted a video to Instagram that purportedly showed the barge stuck on the reef, followed by still images of broken coral and a damaged propeller. “To maintain transparency, the authorities had planned to take the associations on the barge tomorrow to show us how it works, but instead they went there today without us,” wrote Save Teahupo’o Reef in the caption. “The barge got stuck on the reef several times, just as planned [sic] by the locals. This is on high tide and no load on the barge.”

France 24 reported that the President of French Polynesia, Moetai Brotherson, responded by cancelling tests he was supposed to observe as well as the start of construction work on Monday. “Today we’re breaking coral, and tomorrow we may be endangering people’s lives if we use this old equipment,” said Brotherson to local broadcaster TNTV on Saturday. Later on, he added “If there’s no solution in the end… we must call into question the survival of the surf contests at Teahupo’o.”

This is the latest in an ongoing controversy regarding the judging tower for the Olympic surfing competition. Though previous WSL events at the venue had used a temporary wooden structure, officials stated they would be unable to reuse the tower, due to safety concerns, the need to accommodate a larger staff and the technical requirements of a live broadcast. As a result, plans were made for a three-story aluminum structure that would include additional capacity, enhanced security, air conditioning, electricity, water and toilets. When this prompted an outcry from locals and surfers, the French government announced a scaled down version to meet their demands. However, this most recent incident shows that the saga of the Teahupo’o tower is far from over.


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