A new study from academics at Rice University suggests that the proposed trans-oceanic canal in Nicaragua could be a major environmental disaster, impacting fresh water supplies, ecotourism and forcing the relocation of tens of thousands of indigenous peoples.
An excerpt from the abstract of the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology highlights the major concerns of the researchers about the Nicaragua canal: “Seeking economic growth and job creation to tackle the nation’s extreme poverty, the Nicaraguan government awarded a concession to build an inter-oceanic canal and associated projects to a recently formed Hong Kong based company with no track record or related expertise. This concession was awarded without a bidding process and in advance of any feasibility, socio-economic or environmental impact assessments; construction has begun without this information. The 278-km long inter-oceanic canal project may result in significant environmental and social impairments. Of particular concern are: damage to Lake Cocibolca, a unique freshwater tropical lake and Central America’s main freshwater reservoir; damage to regional biodiversity and ecosystems; and socio-economic impacts.”
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More on the Nicaragua canal
The planned Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal traverses Lake Cocibolca (also known as Lake Nicaragua), Central America’s most important freshwater reservoir and the biggest tropical freshwater lake in the Americas.
Of note, the plans call for the Nicaragua canal to be longer, wider, and deeper than the 51-mile-long Panama Canal.
Current plans, finalized in June of last year, call for a 172-mile-long canal costing around $50 billion The firm spearheading the canal project is the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Group, who is partnering with the Nicaraguan government.
The project has already started with the construction of roads and heavy equipment moving into place, with no real environmental assessment having been made. The current schedule foresees the first ships passing through the Nicaraguacanal in late 2019.
Statement from Prof. Pedro Alvarez
“The biggest environmental challenge is to build and operate the canal without catastrophic impacts to this sensitive ecosystem,” commented Pedro Alvarez, professor and chair of environmental engineering at Rice University.
“Significant impacts to the lake could result from incidental or accidental spills from 5,100 ships passing through every year; invasive species brought by transoceanic ships, which could threaten the extinction of aquatic plants and fish, such as the cichlids that have been evolving since the lake’s formation,” Alvarez continued.
Prof. Alvarez also noted the negative impact of dredging: “…frequent dredging, impacting aquatic life through alterations in turbidity and hypoxia, triggered by resuspension of nutrients and organic matter that exert a relatively high biochemical oxygen demand.”