TOPSHOT - Australia's surfer Jack Robinson rides a wave during the men's final of the Tahiti World Surf League (WSL) professional competition, also a surfing test event for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, at Teahupo'o in Tahiti, French Polynesia, August 16, 2023. (Photo by Jerome Brouillet / AFP) (Photo by JEROME BROUILLET/AFP via Getty Images)
CNN  — 

The International Surf Association says it welcomes the pause of an aluminum tower’s construction ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic surfing competition in Tahiti, French Polynesia, as surfers voice their concern about the environmental impact of preparations for next year’s event.

Teahupo’o, Tahiti, some 9,759 miles away from Paris, is regarded as one of the world’s best surf spots, and is home to World Surf League (WSL) tour competitions, where a wooden structure is usually erected for competitions and later removed.

However, Olympic organizers’ plans to build the aluminum tower to host 40 people to judge and televise the competition have been met with opposition from locals and pro surfers.

In November, Olympic organizers said they had adjusted the tower’s original design of to make it “more moderate.” Originally meant to weight 14 tons, the tower will now be nine tons, though foundations still need to be drilled.

A petition by residents and visitors of Teahupoo calling for the government to rethink the tower, as well as the drilling of the platform and the underwater pipelines for the surfing competition has received over 181,000 signatures.

However, controversy over the structure continues to bubble: video posted Saturday by Save Teahupo’o Reef showed a barge – being used to build the tower – stuck on the reef, as well as evidence of broken coral.

France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin (C) sails on the 2024 Olympic Games surfing venue in Teahupoo, on August 16, 2023, as part of his four-day official visit on the island of Tahiti. (Photo by Suliane FAVENNEC / AFP) (Photo by SULIANE FAVENNEC/AFP via Getty Images)

“The ISA was saddened and surprised to see that a test undertaken by the French Polynesian government resulted in the coral reef at Teahupo’o being damaged by a barge,” the ISA said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the French Polynesian government has taken the decision to pause all further testing and preparations to draw lessons following the incident on the reef.

“The ISA welcomes this decision, and has urged intensified consultations to consider all available options.”

Surfer Kanoa Igarashi was one of the surfers to speak out on the construction of the aluminum tower, posting to Instagram: “After seeing yesterday’s video, I’ve realized how much damage this ‘new tower’ is causing.”

“I trusted that they would consider the local environment more. But I guess I was wrong … All for a two-day event and not much future benefits for the local community,” said Igarashi on Sunday, and later reshared.

“The Olympics is meant to leave the community a better place than before the games but this action is not showing that in my opinion. I hope we can all find a solution,” he added.

Meanwhile, 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, has also criticized the revised plans for the platform, reportedly commenting that it “doesn’t make any sense to need such a giant tower for a 2 days event.”

In a statement sent to CNN, the World Surf League said it was “concerned by the damage to the reef at Teahupo’o that seems to have occurred due to the ongoing work to construct a new tower for the 2024 Olympics.”

“We continue to believe it is important for organizers to engage with and listen to the local community as they contemplate their decisions related to the Olympic competition at this iconic wave,” added the World Surf League statement.

Environmental groups voice concern

Campaigners and local residents have long been raising concerns about the impact of the new structure on the environment.

Astrid Drollet, secretary of the Vai Ara O Teahupo’o association, which is behind the petition Save Teahupo’o Reef, told CNN that the existing wooden tower “has been in use for 20 years and is very well maintained.”

“So we don’t understand why Paris 2024 and French Polynesia are not using this tower for the four days of competition,” adding that the new tower “is going to cause major damage to the environment.”

Alexandra Dempsey, coral reef ecologist and CEO of Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, said that the coral formation that makes Tahiti such an ideal place for professional surfing could be damaged by the tower.

“The local communities there are incredibly passionate and culturally tied to the ocean, and particularly the reef systems and the reef systems there that caused the wave action in that area. And the perfect wave … is … a natural effect of how the reef is and has been naturally formed for millions of years,” she told CNN Sport.

“You’re really not only damaging the ecology of the reef, but also the structure that’s been there, that’s been able to create the wonderful waves that that site was chosen for. And we’re not really sure what the outcomes or the fallout would be of damaging the reef system there,” she added.

There are over 1,000 species of fish and 150 species of coral in French Polynesia, according to Tahiti’s tourism board. Threatened by the effects of climate change and mass tourism, the corals are a highly protected species.

“The French Polynesian Government and Paris 2024 are working on solutions that will enable the new tower to be set up which has been reduced in size and weight,” said a statement from Paris 2024 sent to CNN.

“This was the result of collective effort between Paris 2024 and French Polynesian government to reduce the impact of the tower on the natural environment.

“Technical meetings organised with all those involved in the project, and guided by the project manager on site, should enable solutions to be found rapidly.

“With less than a year to go before the surfing events are due to be held in Teahupo’o, those involved in the project are reaffirming more than ever their desire to work with the associations in a transparent manner to ensure that the Paris 2024 Games are a success for French Polynesia.”