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Paris Olympics surfing puts pressure on Tahiti’s fragile ecosystem

The world-famous surf spot of Teahupo'o in Tahiti, French Polynesia, is set to host the 2024 Paris Olympics surfing competition. But the decision has thrust unprecedented challenges onto a small community that has long cherished and strives to protect a Tahitian way of life more closely connected to its wild lands and crystal-clear ocean than the fame promised by an Olympic stage.

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VIDEO BY AP
The world-famous surf spot of Teahupo'o in Tahiti, in French Polynesia, is set to host the 2024 Paris Olympics surfing competition. But the decision has created unprecedented challenges for the small community and its fragile ecosystems.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Locals hang out at a bus stop at the end of the road in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Wednesday, Jan. 17.
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French Olympic athlete Kauli Vaast, right, and his brother Naiki, organize surf equipment in their bungalow in Vairao, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sunday, Jan. 14. "Magical things happen here, you feel this energy and you must show respect," said Kauli Vaast. "It is so important to show respect in these types of places where you face mother nature."
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

A pedestrian bridge under construction for the Olympic Games is visible in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Friday, Jan. 12.
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A wave at Teahupo'o crashes onto the coral reef in Tahiti, French Polynesia, Thursday, Jan. 11. The decision to host part of the Olympic Games here has thrust unprecedented challenges onto a small community that has long cherished and strives to protect its way of life.
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Butterflyfish swim along the coral reef in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Monday, Jan. 15.
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A man tends to a barbecue at a snack bar in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Tuesday, Jan. 16.
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A worker inspects the permanent foundations being constructed on the coral reef for a judging tower to be used during the Olympic Games surf competition in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Friday, Jan. 12. The size of the judging tower has been scaled back and new infrastructure plans are being drawn up to minimize the need for new construction.
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Teahupo'o native Gregory Parker poses for a portrait in the beachfront bungalow that he will rent out to Olympic accredited officials during the Olympic surf competition in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sunday, Jan. 14.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

The surf breaks onto the lagoon in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Saturday, Jan. 13. The decision to host part of the Olympic Games here has thrust unprecedented challenges onto a small community that has long cherished and strives to protect its way of life.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

A surfer rides a wave in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Saturday, Jan. 13. The world-famous surf spot is set to host the 2024 Paris Olympics surfing competition.
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Tahitian-born surfer Kauli Vaast rides a wave in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Sunday, Jan. 13. Vaast learned how to surf on these waves at just eight years old.
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A surfer rides a wave in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Saturday, Jan. 13. The world-famous surf spot is set to host the 2024 Paris Olympics surfing competition.
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A shark swims along the coral reef in Vairao, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Wednesday, Jan. 17.
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A stray dog walks by an Olympic Games construction site in Teahupo'o, French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean, Thursday, Jan. 11. The decision to host part of the Olympic Games here has thrust unprecedented challenges onto a small community that has long cherished and strives to protect its way of life.
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A surfer rides a wave in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Saturday, Jan. 13. The world-famous surf spot is set to host the 2024 Paris Olympics surfing competition.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

A worker inspects the permanent foundations being constructed on the coral reef for a judging tower to be used during the Olympic Games surf competition in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Friday, Jan. 12. The size of the judging tower has been scaled back and new infrastructure plans are being drawn up to minimize the need for new construction.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

A group play music together by the side of the road in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Tuesday, Jan. 16. The decision to host part of the Olympic Games here has thrust unprecedented challenges onto a small community that has long cherished and strives to protect its way of life.
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Naiki Vaast spearfishes along the coral reef in Vairao, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Wednesday, Jan. 17.
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A woman shelters from the sun as she watches surfers catching waves in Vairao, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Monday, Jan. 15.
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Friends drink together after work in Taiarapu-Ouest, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Friday, Jan. 12.
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Cindy Otcenasek, the president of the environmental organization Vai Ara O Teahupo'o poses for a portrait at her home in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Tuesday, Jan. 16. "In Polynesian culture, gods are present everywhere, in the coral, in the ocean," she said. "The ocean is considered to be the most sacred temple."
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A customer sits at the only snack bar in the village of Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Monday, Jan. 15.
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A child plays on a sculpture of the Teahupo'o wave at the end of the road, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Saturday, Jan. 13.
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A person burns fallen leaves on a beach in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Friday, Jan. 13. The decision to host part of the Olympic Games here has thrust unprecedented challenges onto a small community that has long cherished and strives to protect a way of life.
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Naiki Vaast, right, prepares a fish he caught for dinner, feeding cats the leftovers in Vairao, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Wednesday, Jan. 17.
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Kids surf small waves along the beach after school in Teahupo'o, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Monday, Jan. 15.

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