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Plans for a 3-story judges' stand for the 2024 Summer Olympics criticized

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Paris, France, is hosting the Summer Olympics next year. However, the surf competition will be held in French Polynesia. That's a French overseas territory in the South Pacific, 10,000 miles away from Paris.

TAHURAI HENRY: Teahupo'o beach looks like "Jurassic Park," and it's facing that beautiful wave that is about 400 meters from shore. Just imagine that beautiful wave coming into the lagoon full of corals with the crystal-clear water you've ever seen.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Tahurai Henry. He's been surfing this beach on the southern end of Tahiti for 20 years. He and other locals worry that a three-story judges tower being built for the competition could leave irreversible damage.

HENRY: The tower is going to be built at about 250 meters from the wave, and it's in the lagoon. There's a huge ecosystem with a lot of corals living over there. Most of the people from our village, they leave out of fishing. They use that lagoon as their fridge, and when they're going to build that tower, they're going to have to dig holes into the reef. And there is no proper channel for such big boats to go to the place in the lagoon where they're going to be building. This is going to break the corals, and the corals have a huge impact on the ecosystem.

MARTÍNEZ: What about the surfing? What about the waves? How will this affect the waves?

HENRY: No studies, no scientist is able to tell us that these diggings and holes are not going to have an impact on the wave later on, and if you make so many holes in there, it can make the reef a little less stronger. So why would we take the risk of breaking our wave that is probably the most perfect and beautiful waves in the world? Why would we do changes that we're not sure that the wave is going to stay still?

MARTÍNEZ: Now, NPR has reached out to the French Olympic Committee for comment, and they say that they're committed to minimizing the impact of the tower, and they're also committed to a sustainable solution. They also say they plan to dismantle the tower. Does that put your mind to rest at all or give you something to think about?

HENRY: I don't trust them anymore. We don't want that tower. It's people that are living in Paris and never been here. It's people that don't even know how to swim, probably, you know? We are put in - on the side for three or four days of competition. Who is going to have to deal with it later on? It's us. It's our fishermen. It's our kids. It's our village.

MARTÍNEZ: Has France or the French Olympic Committee listened to you, or at least considered some of your concerns into what they plan to do?

HENRY: They do listen to us, but they're not backing up. The only thing that they have in mind is putting that tower on, and they're telling us, no tower, no Olympics. Our environment is way more important than Olympics. So if they don't want to run the Olympics over here, they're good to go home in France and do it.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. So it doesn't matter to you, say, losing investment and world attention if the Olympic event left. At this point, for you, you'd be willing to trade it to keep the place pristine.

HENRY: I'm 100% ready to lose money for my little piece of paradise, to keep it perfect for my kid and the next generations to come. It's probably not what everyone think, because some people did invest for the Olympics, but if I had to choose about important income and the future of my village and our kids, there's no question.

MARTÍNEZ: That is surfer Tahurai Henry in Tahiti. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on this.

HENRY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.