Canal carved through Nicaragua will destroy rainforests, communities and wildlife

Feb 19, 2014 by Jorge Huete-Perez, The Conversation
Not a new idea, as this map from 1885 shows, but no less controversial. Credit: Meyers Konversationslexikons

The Nicaraguan government has granted a concession to a mysterious Chinese company owned by Jing Wang, a little-known Hong-Kong based businessman, to build an inter-oceanic canal. This would provide an alternative to the Panama Canal that, 99 years after it first opened, is struggling to cope with shipping.

Despite being one of the most in Nicaragua's history, the legislative bill in question appeared virtually overnight and was approved as law only three days after it was sent to the , with no serious national consultation or opportunity to hear the opposition from some of the country's leading scientists.

The company is the Hong Kong Nicaraguan Development Group (HKND), which has no experience with major construction projects. With an estimated cost of US$40 billion, the canal was slated to start in June 2014, but has been delayed to the end of the year

The Nicaraguan government claims the project will pull the country, in which 45% of the population live on less than US$2 day, out of poverty. But so far no feasibility studies have been revealed, and serious economists have expressed their concern that the canal will just be another enclave economy as it was for Panama. Because this private canal will not be a property of Nicaragua for 100 years, and since it will not be linked to the rest of the economy, it will not create wealth nor will it improve Nicaragua's economy.

Around 300km of excavations will be required to connect the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean – three times the length of the Panama Canal. Along the route it will traverse Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking water reservoir in the region, and cut through rainforests and ecologically valuable swamps.

Although the final route has not been announced, it is clear that all possible routes will use Lake Nicaragua (also known by its indigenous name, Cocibolca). It is the lake and adjacent waterways, together with the area's rich biodiversity, that are the most pressing environmental concerns.

No environmental impact assessment was carried out as required by law before the canal concession was granted, and the face of the bill requires environmental assessments after the fact, at the discretion of the firm – an obvious conflict of interest.

Environmental concerns

The project threatens some of the most fragile ecosystems in the country, on land, at sea, and in the lake, causing potentially irreversible damage.

We fear that, should the plans proceed, there may be some devastating impact on the region's ecology, such as the chemical and biological properties of the watercourses, due to the major excavation, dredging, sedimentation that construction will bring, as well as the inevitable pollution and invasive species that marine shipping brings.

This could ultimately lead to the extinction of many fish species important to surrounding fishing communities, and characteristic aquatic fauna such as freshwater bull sharks, sawfish and tarpon could also be affected.

In addition to the canal infrastructure itself, other related projects include oil pipelines, airports, and industrial zones, which will negatively affect the migration patterns and biological dynamics of terrestrial animals.

Direct and indirect damage to natural reserves such as the Indio-Maiz reserve and others will threaten Nicaragua's endangered species. Drastic changes in land use and the displacement of indigenous communities will put even greater pressures on natural protected areas as villages are relocated and begin clearing rainforest for food and shelter.

Social and economic concerns

Dozens of villages and indigenous communities will have to be moved out of their ancestral homes, a serious concern for indigenous groups with a deep religious connection to their ancestral lands.

Communities, facing a loss of land and food insecurity, have filed lawsuits asserting that they were not consulted and that it violates their legitimate territorial rights.

The Academy of Sciences of Nicaragua along with other civil organisations has organised a series of forums to promote a better-informed debate on the possible threats posed by the canal, and alternatives. A document of all the scientific and technical forum presentations has been prepared and will be published soon (in Spanish).

The academy has called for an independent and external evaluation of the , in particular an environmental assessment, and is seeking help from the international community. It is surprising, given the magnitude of the project, how little attention it has been given abroad.

As it stands the project is neither environmentally sustainable nor scientifically sound, but will proceed no matter what. International action is needed to provide expert advice to local scientists to prevent the tragic destruction of biodiversity and precious ecosystems in Central America.

Explore further: Fighting food waste in Nicaragua by 'eating united'

More information: Jorge Huete-Perez does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Nature Commentary: Conservation: Nicaragua Canal could wreak environmental ruin: www.nature.com/news/conservati… nmental-ruin-1.14721

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User comments : 34

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mickstep
2.5 / 5 (8) Feb 19, 2014
This article if it was the US creating the canal, and the country was Colombia:

"ZOMG how cool is this new engineering endeavor, totally revolutionary, totally groundbreaking, how cool is this shit?"
baudrunner
3 / 5 (5) Feb 19, 2014
From Wikipedia:
In 1981 the Nicaraguan Institute of Natural Resources and the Environment (IRENA) conducted an environmental assessment study and found that half of the water sources sampled were seriously polluted by sewage. It was found that 32 tons (70,000 pounds) of raw sewage were being released into Lake Nicaragua daily. Industry located along the lake's shore had been dumping effluent for an extended period of time.
Also, It turns out that what was thought about the "fresh-water sharks" having been trapped over time as the lake lost its salinity was false, as bull sharks tagged in Lake Nicaragua have been caught in the Caribbean Sea, so the ecology is not so unique. They managed to jump the rapids of the San Juan River which connects the lake to the sea. It's also not the first time the idea has been proposed, which it was even before the Panama canal was built. I say, do it, but only if Nicaragua shares in the profits.
TegiriNenashi
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 19, 2014
Liquid1474
3.3 / 5 (8) Feb 20, 2014
The poor Earth; it suffers because we are short-sighted humans
Lex Talonis
1.5 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2014
Instead of continents separating by drift, like the Afrikan rift,

America will split in two, from canals left to spew.
tscati
5 / 5 (6) Feb 20, 2014
Sounds like some Nicaraguan politicians have suddenly become very rich!
Osiris1
1 / 5 (11) Feb 20, 2014
Will be a wide and deep one especially made for Chinese huge aircraft carriers, nuke subs, and all sorts of outsized Chinese naval and troop landing ships to facilitate invasion of the United States. Land enclave just right for Chinese missile silos and air bases for long range bombers and fighter cover. Also enuf for barracks facilities for over 2 million troops. Also, the fresh water of that lake could be exported to China, which needs water.
MarkRaker
2 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2014
The Chinese are at it again! The Nicaraguan canal is an environmental atrocity in the making, and it must be stopped! Like China's Three Gorges Dam project, it is a massive construction project, indicative of the utter disregard for nature, a living world, which the Chinese without a shred of compassion are determined to exploit. When will our pathetic excuse for a President condemn such acts of environmental imperialism by the Chinese? This project could be killed with but a few disapproving words by the POTUS, leveled in the right direction, but instead our great leader is silent. So much for his commitment to halt global warming, and to a "Planet in peril."
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (6) Feb 20, 2014
Nicaragua is already being deforested at an alarming rate.

"Nicaragua bids to stem deforestation with eco-soldiers... The green guard, a unit of 580 environmental soldiers, recently won its first "battlefield victory" by netting 111,800 cubic feet (3,165 cubic metres) of illegal lumber felled by loggers.

"Since 1983, Nicaragua's forest cover has dropped from 63% to some 40%, according to government data... Not all Nicaragua's deforestation is caused by the lumber mafia - farmers and cattle ranchers are also doing their fair share of careless chopping.

"But whoever is responsible, at the current rate of clearance only 25% of the country is likely to remain forested by 2030. "

-Perhaps a project like the canal will raise the people out of poverty so they wont have to be selling off their forest products to survive. Perhaps theyll be able to afford educations and contraceptives then.
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (9) Feb 20, 2014
Why do so many conservationists support socialism?
If govts protected private property rights, then conservationists could buy the land for conservation.
Returners
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 20, 2014
-Perhaps a project like the canal will raise the people out of poverty so they wont have to be selling off their forest products to survive. Perhaps theyll be able to afford educations and contraceptives then.


Education is not a cure-all.

If everyone had a p.h.d. there'd still be about the same number of farmers and ranchers, because somebody has to do it, and that somebody would be forced into doing it through economic need. In fact, people who don't need a degree should not get a degree, as the cost of doing so will only put them in greater poverty, not less.

You fall for this naive lie that you can somehow "learn your way out" of every problem, when some problems are simply not a matter of knowledge, at least not within anything we're apparently going to obtain any time soon.

Invent a robot which has no family or medical needs which can do all manual labor, maybe then your position would be true, but for now it's mostly just fantasy, or at best positive futurism.
Returners
1 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2014
America is flooded with contraceptives, yet people get pregnant by accident all the time. In fact, the rate of accidental pregnancy is probably higher than it was before the so-called sexual revolution. One problem with contraceptives is they are dependent on rational thought, but sexual impulses often over-ride rational thought, especially if relying on something like a condom, rather than an oral contraceptive. There in the moment you might be inclined to think, you know, "to hell with the condom," because you aren't thinking straight.

Also there are things like reverse psychology and the "Juno effect," where watching a movie that was intended to discourage teen pregnancy and increase responsibility led to girls intentionally trying to get pregnant, the opposite of the intention.

I see relatively little evidence that sex education decreases the rate of disease or unwanted pregnancies, but over time I have come to believe it should be done in schools for other reasons..
Returners
1 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2014
Now, on the original topic:

How much fuel is this canal likely to save over it's expected useful lifetime, or even just over the next 30, 50, 100 years?

Given how much fuel these cargo ships burn, it stands to reason that you can put in that perspective of when the break-even would be where the environmental benefits of reducing pollution from all that fuel out-weights the local negative side effects.

I do think a certain share of the profits should go to Nicaragua, which is the case for any land owner in a lend/lease situation. It really should be 50% for 200 years, followed by full ownership, rather than nothing for 100 years followed by ownership.

Not that I think it matters, because transactions of this type are concluded by somebody a few generations later, over which nobody in the original bargain has control.
barakn
4 / 5 (8) Feb 20, 2014
In the other news:
http://www.ecoenq...rrel.htm

You do realize that is satire and not actual news?
PhyOrgSux
1.5 / 5 (8) Feb 20, 2014
This article if it was the US creating the canal, and the country was Colombia:

"ZOMG how cool is this new engineering endeavor, totally revolutionary, totally groundbreaking, how cool is this shit?"


I think the tone would be something like that anytime the Anglo-American world power was the main beneficiary. It wouldn't have to happen in Colombia, necessarily.

Most likely the main fuel behind the concerns is that this could break up the benefits gained from the control US has over the Panama canal.

US of A used to have considerable amounts of wildlife and even rain-forests in the past, it was all destroyed of course but when something like that happens on smaller scale in other countries, out come the self-righteous...

TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (8) Feb 20, 2014
Education is not a cure-all
But ignorance is a kill-all. Like that?
If everyone had a p.h.d. there'd still be about the same number of farmers and ranchers
The FIRST THING that people can learn is to live within their means. To learn this, they have to accept the FACT that there is no god who is pleased as pink every time they drop another baby.

"30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

"33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself" matt6

-You see your book has corrupted them. They need to be taught to take responsibility for their own futures. Once they learn this they can be taught family planning.

"Religion in Nicaragua is a significant part of the culture of Nicaragua and forms part of the constitution."
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 20, 2014
I think the tone would be something like that anytime the Anglo-American world power was the main beneficiary. It wouldn't have to happen in Colombia, necessarily
You may want to check your geography first.
America is flooded with contraceptives, yet people get pregnant by accident all the time
-and when religion ruled they had no other choice.
In fact, the rate of accidental pregnancy is probably higher than it was before the so-called sexual revolution
But the fertility rate was indeed higher as women were allowed to do nothing else but make and raise babies. BTW accidental pregnancy used to be called 'gods will'.
_ilbud
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 20, 2014
Anything that reduces the US's stranglehold is a good thing.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 21, 2014
Anything that reduces the US's stranglehold is a good thing.
"canal was in 1999 taken over by the Panamanian government, and is now managed and operated by the Panama Canal Authority, a Panamanian government agency."

-There is a strategic danger with both the panama and suez canals. The suez has been threatened with closure a few times, most recently by Iran. This is a major benefit of a second way through the isthmus.
Captain Stumpy
4.4 / 5 (7) Feb 21, 2014
US of A used to have ... rain-forests in the past, it was all destroyed of course

@PhyOrgSux
obviously you've never been to the Pacific Northwest

http://quest.arc....Rain.pdf

http://www.nps.go...-hoh.htm

http://www.fs.fed...ex.shtml

http://www.gorp.c...461.html

http://www.tarlet...sts.html

MarkRaker
5 / 5 (6) Feb 22, 2014
"US of A used to have considerable amounts of wildlife and even rain-forests in the past, it was all destroyed of course but when something like that happens on smaller scale in other countries, out come the self-righteous..."

So then, two wrongs make a right? The point, I believe, is to condemn the wanton destruction of wildlife and habitat when the entire biosphere is under siege, regardless of who the perpetrator may be.
Howhot
4.3 / 5 (6) Feb 22, 2014
After reading the article, it seems like a good reason to have a massive environmental study.
dpaxton
3 / 5 (3) Feb 22, 2014
How much would it cost to put two super ports in and a Musk HyperLoop for containers?
TopCat22
1.5 / 5 (4) Feb 23, 2014
This Canal is a good thing for the Nicaraguan People and for World Trade. The environment will not be harmed.
semmsterr
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2014
The world seems to be full of short-sighted idiots incapable of seeing beyond the next dollar. In my neck of the woods also, they want to sell out a wild-life sanctuary and marine nursery called Goat Island to the Chinese.
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 23, 2014
short-sighted idiots

And these are socialists.
Drjsa_oba
5 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2014
From the tone of certain contributors like ryg above. If they agree they are whatever "democrats"? if they disagree they are socialists or conservatives or communists or something.

Always with the us and them attitude. Try some constructive thoughts.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2014
Just pointing out the govt of Nicaragua is socialist. The govt of China is socialist.
The western environmentalists whining support socialism.
Socialist states have a very poor record of environmental protection and listening to protestors.
What pressure does one apply to socialist states who believe, and do, own all in their borders?
I challenge the environmentalists to organize marches in Managua and Beijing opposing this canal.
Rimino
Feb 28, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2014
The capitalist states protect the nature only at their own territory.

It's called protecting private property.
Why give China a pass?
Why doesn't China protect its private property? Oh, that's right, the state owns all the property.
SURFIN85
not rated yet Feb 28, 2014
"the entire biosphere is under siege, regardless of who the perpetrator may be."

The perpetrator are the patrons of global trade. "Consumers" have no sense of responsibility for the areas "Producers" destroy. Global trade should be curtailed. Kelloggs recently stated that they would only source palm oil for their processed foods from sustainable farms (in the distant tropics).... after 20 years of patronizing an industry that wiped out hundreds of thousands of square miles of rainforest. On our end, it made everyone fat and stupid, eating clown food. On their end, its a dead-end industry that wiped out productivity. They live in a destructed environment, we live in destructed bodies. Was it worth it? On their end, the promise was economic gain, on ours, convenient munchies. How'd it work out?

This Canal is a good thing for the Nicaraguan People and for World Trade. The environment will not be harmed.
This is the kind of pat, "just-so" reasoning that I am referring to.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2014
Global trade should be curtailed.

No, private property rights must be protected around the world.
Who owns the palm trees?
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Feb 28, 2014
Why doesn't China protect its private property? Oh, that's right, the state owns all the property.

Not any more... why do you think there are so many billionaires coming out of China?
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Feb 28, 2014
Why doesn't China protect its private property? Oh, that's right, the state owns all the property.

Not any more... why do you think there are so many billionaires coming out of China?

Same reason there are so many billionaires like Soros, they are cronies of the state.
TopCat22
1 / 5 (1) Mar 02, 2014
Why doesn't China protect its private property? Oh, that's right, the state owns all the property.

Not any more... why do you think there are so many billionaires coming out of China?


And you think that in North America you actually own any property? China is just honest about property rights. In North America you have to right to occupy a property for as long as you pay the government a tax... you cannot ever own property in North America... you only rent it by paying the taxes to the government