Brazil's Tourism Ministry has removed from its Instagram feed a photomontage that pictures the Rio de Janeiro bay where Olympic sailing events will take place as a tropical paradise of crystalline waters — a far cry from the reality of its brackish, sewage-filled waters.
The water quality of Rio's Guanabara Bay has become one of the hot-button issues of the 2016 Olympics, with less than two years to go before the games and few signs the government will succeed in making good on a promised clean up.
In the city's Olympic bid, authorities promised to slash the amount of trash and raw sewage flowing in the bay by 80 percent ahead of the games, but the waters remain so polluted that some sailors have openly voiced their concerns about competitive and health risks.
The Tourism Ministry's Instagram post late Sunday threw fuel on the fire. The photomontage pictured the Gloria Marina, the main dock on the Guanabara Bay, as a pristine, undeveloped cove of sheer rocks, with a limpid waterfall and sailboats anchored in clear turquoise waters.
A report in Rio's O Globo newspaper said the photo was originally the work of Instagram user Marcos Calil, whose feed is largely made up of heavily doctored images of Rio landscapes. But the ministry's caption gave no indication the photo was fake.
"Bathed by the waters of Guanabara Bay, the Gloria Marina is a nautical port in Rio de Janeiro," the caption read. "The site is very sought after by athletes and tourists taking boat trips."
The image elicited a storm of outraged user comments, and the ministry acted swiftly to remove it, later posting another photo of the actual marina, its turbid waters flanked by buildings.
The caption on the real photo, posted Monday, read: "Oops, we made a mistake. This is a photo of the real Gloria Marina in Rio de Janeiro. The region is still naturally beautiful."
In a statement, the Ministry explained that the fake photo was part of a two-year-old project with Instagram aimed at getting users in Brazil to tag their most appealing photos of the country and its landscapes with several ministry hashtags.
"The photo published didn't live up to the Tourism Ministry's criteria," the statement said. "In two year of the collaborative project, it was the first time that something like this happened."
Nearly 70 percent of the sewage in greater Rio, a city of 12 million inhabitants, goes untreated — flowing, raw, into area rivers, onto the beaches and into the Guanabara Bay. Authorities recently announced plans to cap a pipe that pumps untreated sewage into the Gloria Marina, which will be the starting point of Olympic sailing and wind surfing events.
Participants in an Olympic test event in August complained of the stench of sewage and the presence of animal carcasses and plastic bags in the water. Still, authorities insist they are making progress with the cleanup, saying Guanabara Bay will be clean in time for the games.