A consortium of 21 environmental scientists from North and South America has expressed strong concern about the impact of the controversial Nicaragua Canal through a coauthored paper titled ”Scientists Raise Alarms About Fast Tracking of Transoceanic Canal Through Nicaragua.”
The Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Group, is building the 172-mile, USD 50 billion canal in collaboration with the Nicaraguan government, which granted the concession last June. Preparation for the project has begun with the construction of roads to move heavy equipment and supplies into place, with the first ships scheduled to pass through the canal in late 2019. It will be longer, wider and deeper than the 51-mile Panama Canal to the south.
The Canal will cut through Lake Cocibolca (aka Lake Nicaragua), Central America’s main freshwater reservoir and the largest tropical freshwater lake of the Americas; this plan will force the relocation of indigenous populations and impact a fragile ecosystem, including species at risk of extinction, according to Rice University environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez and other members of the consortium.
”The biggest environmental challenge is to build and operate the canal without catastrophic impacts to this sensitive ecosystem,” Alvarez said. ”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; and 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.”
Alvarez and his colleagues wrote that dredging required to open a channel in the lake deep and wide enough for ships will disperse enough sediment to lower its oxygen content and kill marine life. They anticipate the project will impact Nicaragua’s ecotourism and the supply of fresh water for drinking, irrigation and power generation.
The researchers listed their concerns in three broad categories: water and sediments, biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and socio-economic impact.
They acknowledged Nicaragua’s hope that the Canal, one of the largest engineering projects ever attempted, would create jobs and lift the nation out of extreme poverty; but they are concerned the benefits would not match expectations, particularly since the Nicaraguan government ”has not published a detailed business plan for the canal.”
”Nicaragua should prepare and publicly vet a detailed economic assessment that includes not only a cost-benefit analysis but also considers externalities associated with national economic development, environmental impacts, social equity, human rights and legal and national security issues,’‘ the authors of the paper wrote.
Source: Rice University; Image: Rice University