Pristine Nature Sacrificed to the Sochi Olympics


dumping of waste and polluting of rivers, in the creation of Sochi Olympic sites


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

9 Responses to “Pristine Nature Sacrificed to the Sochi Olympics”

  1. James Says:

    The peoples of the former USSR were a proud people who knew who they were, what they stood for and where they were going. Since the fall, they have been without a rudder or a purpose, or so it seems, in their troubled minds. The Olympic Games reinvigorates for the Russian people, their sense of pride and purpose that escaped them after the fall; Putin has shown leadership in his all-out spending on this seminal event. Whatever damage mere humans inflict on the landscape; Planet Earth is quite capable of laughing it off as the process of rejuvenation follows it`s course over time. We are here for but a short time – the Earth, for all sensibility, is here for keeps.

  2. April Says:

    I appreciate James weighing in with his point of view. But I strongly disagree that Planet Earth is quite capable of laughing off the damage we inflict. With more than 7 billion of us and lots of technology we too often use carelessly, the earth (and humanity, by extension) suffers greatly.

  3. Judy Says:

    Thank you for this article, April. I was aware of the other human issues, but not this. I like your idea of recycling past Olympic sites, and we both know it will never happen. This is sad, very sad.

  4. James Says:

    Thank you, actually I feared you would not publish my comment, as it differed so much with your point of view. I adjusted my perspective re these human impact observations, upon learning of the depth of the continental crust – 50 kilometers – the circumference at the equator – 24,000 miles – the speed of rotation of the planet – 1,000 miles per hour – and among other many perspectives, the enormity and influence of the sun. If all of the peoples of the world were assembled, shoulder to shoulder, they would take up a space equal to the area of Los Angeles , California. I conclude that people cannot destroy the colossus of the Earth.

  5. April Says:

    Sure, the planet as a sphere traveling around the sun will likely survive humanity. But many scientists call our era the ‘Anthropocene,’ because humans are responsible for so much that is changing–climate, accelerating rates of extinctions, etc. We humans need to become real stewards, not careless plunderers.

  6. Todd Says:

    James: I hope you are a young man and live to see what man hath wrought.

  7. sandra rose Says:

    I am aghast! I should have known the minute I saw how magnificnet Sochi is that it was doomed. I just had no idea of the profound destruction of Nature that new village has wrought.

    James is a hoot! I wonder if when he sees people dying by acts of God he figures no big deal, there are lots more people where they came from. Nature will fill that void. It was God’s will. Does he perceive the difference from a dead planet spinning darkly in space after humans have killed it- along with themselves- and a breathtakingly beautiful globe that our spacemen have seen from space and that we have lived on for most of our lives (if you are 67 or older)??

    Bah Humbug

  8. Maggie Says:

    Thank you for making us aware. What a shame that the games come at the expense of so much else. I think your idea of recycling Olympic sites makes perfect sense.

  9. Joan Brundage Says:

    So sad! As the Pete Seeger song goes—”When will we ever learn?!” What does it take?!

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