RIO DE JANEIRO — Officials in Rio de Janeiro are trying to make one of the globe's most beautiful cities even more stunning.
Some 50 workers began tearing down billboards in front of iconic Guanabara Bay on Thursday, launching a campaign to remove distractions from the view of the emerald green Atlantic rain forest on the mountainsides and the white-sand beaches where visitors from around the world will be tanning during the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
Mayor Eduardo Paes has ordered the removal of massive billboards, banner advertisements covering buildings and illegal advertising stuck to other spaces.
The "Rio Limpo," or "Clean Rio" campaign, focuses first on downtown Rio and the city's wealthy southern zone that includes posh beach neighborhoods such as Copacabana and Ipanema. Eventually it will spread throughout the city of 6 million people.
"It will reduce the visual pollution and environmental degradation in a city renowned for its natural and architectural beauty," City Hall said in a statement.
The first targets were three billboards for a camera company, a bank and a make of cars perched on top of a 13-floor building in front of Guanabara Bay and near the Santos Dumont airport.
Billboards advertising Nikon cameras and Kia cars were taken down from the building located on Beira Mar Avenue that links downtown Rio to Flamengo Beach. The billboards were among the first thing travelers landing at Rio's Santos Dumont domestic airport saw as they arrived.
Rodrigo Prado, a spokesman for City Hall's Special Public Order Department, which is in charge of the campaign, said Clean Rio will further enhance the city known for landmarks such as the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Prado did not know how many billboards and unauthorized advertisements will be taken down, but local press reports say at least 300 will have to go.
Prado said no studies have been made about the program's effect on advertising sales in Rio.
Signs with the names of banks, restaurants, shopping malls and stores are allowed, but cannot exceed 107 square feet (10 square meters).
The owners have six months to adapt their signs. If they don't they will be slapped with a daily fine of 570 reals ($297).
In 2007, the city of Sao Paulo also tackled its "visual pollution" with a Clean City Law that banned outdoor advertising altogether.
According to Sao Paulo's City Hall, 536,714 unauthorized outdoor advertisements were taken down in 2011 and 72 million reals ($37.3 million) worth of fines were collected.
___Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.