The mollusks are sinking buoys meant to keep waves out of the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo Bay.

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After being delayed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics are still facing all kinds of challenges, besides the big, obvious one. The Opening Ceremony is scheduled for Friday, and Japanese health experts have warned that the number of new positive cases could increase by 46 percent compared to last week; on top of that, Japan is in the middle of a heatwave and some weather forecasts have predicted that a tropical cyclone could develop in the middle of the week.  

On top of that, reports have emerged that the country had to spend $1.28M to fix an oyster problem that developed in Tokyo Bay, where the Olympic canoeing and rowing events will be held. 

Sea Forest Waterway
Credit: Xinhua News Agency / Getty Images

According to the BBC, the floats in the Sea Forest Waterway, which were put in place to suppress waves on the course, started sinking several months ago. Those devices are also a requirement. "The running of the race must not be influenced by natural or artificial waves," the World Rowing rule book says, according to Asahi Shimbun. "The banks must be so designed as to absorb and not to reflect waves."

When officials investigated, they discovered that magaki oysters had attached themselves to the floats and were weighing them down. By the time the floats were either dragged out of the water to be cleaned and de-mollusked, or cleaned on the spot by divers, more than 14 tons of oysters had been collected and removed.

The Japan Times reported that the oyster issue was originally discovered last August during a rowing test, when the floats weren't, um, totally floating anymore. By December, 75 percent of the floats on the north side of the course had sunk below the water's surface. "It is something we were not at all expecting," one official said at the time.

A government investigation determined that Sea Forest Waterway became a hotspot for oysters, due to the high saline content in Tokyo Bay, and the prevalence of phytoplankton, which are their primary food source. 

In a particularly funny-not-funny turn, magaki oysters are a delicacy in Japan — they're sometimes referred to as "the true oyster" — but the 28,000 pounds that were pulled out of Tokyo Bay didn't end up on a single dinner plate. "We did not consider consuming them," one official said. "That would entail safety checks. More important is that we do not want to grow oysters but work to contain them."

The government hasn't quite figured out how that whole "containing them" thing is going to work after the Games finish. The course is supposed to stay open after the closing ceremonies, as are many of the Olympic venues, but oysters could continue to be a problem if preventative measures aren't taken. And, since the course's annual operating budget is estimated to be around $1.5 million, it's probably best if they don't have to blow 85 percent of it on oyster removal.