Scientists question rush to build Nicaragua canal

March 4, 2015
The path of the Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal. Credit: Pedro Alvarez Group

A consortium of environmental scientists has expressed strong concern about the impact of a controversial Central American canal across Nicaragua.

The path of the Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans 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.

Alvarez is co-corresponding author of an article that includes 21 co-authors from 18 institutions in the United States and Central and South America who gathered at a multidisciplinary international workshop in Managua, Nicaragua, last November to discuss the project. The paper, titled "Scientists Raise Alarms About Fast Tracking of Transoceanic Canal Through Nicaragua," was published this week by the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology.

"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."

A private company, the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Group, is building the 172-mile, $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.

Alvarez and his colleagues, including co-correspondent author Jorge Alberto Huete-Pérez, vice-rector and director of the Molecular Biology Center at the University of Central America in Managua, Nicaragua, 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 lucrative ecotourism and the supply of fresh water for drinking, irrigation and power generation.

In a January editorial in Science, Alvarez, Huete-Perez and Axel Meyer, a professor of biology at the University of Konstanz Germany, wrote, "It is incumbent upon scientists, advocates, nongovernmental organizations and wildlife protection organizations to share knowledge, voice concerns, provide guidance and demand a greater role for science in the design and construction of this massive project."

They called for the international scientific community to help "analyze design plans of the canal and its subprojects for safety, social responsibility and sustainability; make recommendations to protect the region's water resources and biodiversity; and draft statements urging the Nicaraguan government to halt construction until studies can be performed and evaluated by experts.

"In this matter of great urgency and importance, this is an opportunity to exercise scientific leadership, raise awareness and contribute to averting a potential environmental disaster," they wrote.

Nicaragua is among countries considered most vulnerable to climate change, the researchers wrote in their latest paper. They are concerned that changes to the watershed could lead to a shortage of water in the event of drought and catastrophic weather events.

The researchers listed their concerns in three broad categories: water and sediments, biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and socio-economic impact. "Each category involves a number of complex considerations, rendering proper analysis a weighty challenge that is compounded by a lack of publicly available information" from the government and the project's developers and consultants, they wrote.

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," they wrote.

Explore further: Canal route in Nicaragua raises concerns over lake

More information: Environmental Science and Technology,

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1.3 / 5 (13) Mar 04, 2015
Ah yes, plants and animals are more important than humans, of course.
4.8 / 5 (6) Mar 04, 2015
The rush to build the canal is because Venezuela cannot finance Daniel Ortega's dictatorship and he wants to remain in power and carve a niche for his son to succeed him. Notice that Ortega and his cronies Orteguistas-Sandinistas in the legislature illegally pass the law to grant an unknown chinese man, Wan Yin, to build the canal. Due to the lack of transparency and corruption of Ortega's government, one cannot tell if there were bribes involved. The Nicaragua people is opposed to the building of this canal and the world does not need another canal; Panama's canal is practically nearby. There are no impact studies done for the building of this canal and we cannot rely on the chinese to build it since they are not the best environmental-conscious people. This shows the hypocrisy of the United Nations; while this canal is going to be built through reserves recognized by the UN, the UN remains silent.
2 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2015
so disheartening Juancarlos. while there is very litte to argue against the necessity for a world government in our near future, it is stories like yours that make many believe we are well on our way (however wrong the way may be).
2 / 5 (12) Mar 04, 2015
The naivety of this website is comical.

Do they really think the Chinese care about any of these things? This not about physics or the envirnoment, this is about geopolitics which clearly doesn't have a clue about.
1.8 / 5 (10) Mar 04, 2015
Entire continents have been submerged, covered with ice, drifted across hemispheres, annihilated by meteors, buried by super volcanoes...then some guys want to dig a ditch and THAT'S IT! THERE GOES THE PLANET!

If it were up to these guys we'd STILL be sailin' round the Horn and crossing the country in covered wagons.
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2015
During the 1960's there were studies, under the U.S. Project Plowshare program, to blast a new sea-level canal across Central America using dozens of thermonuclear explosives (hydrogen-bombs). That history has largely been forgotten since it is considered too embarrassing to pass on in our schools. One result of the studies, that included several nuclear test explosions, was that the eventual canal project would generate unacceptable environmental damage.

Like the present day promoters, the past promoters tried to pass their pet project off as having minimal environmental impact, in order to get their foot in the door.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2015

and speaking if ignorant irony frank, yes, the overwhelming majority of Chinese folk will care about matters of humanity.
1.4 / 5 (9) Mar 04, 2015
There is only one reason for that canal being built. Look at the financing and managing....ALL Chinese or Chinese front companies for the the Chinese Red Army. They WANT that canal for all the troopships and aircraft carriers that they can push through it to invade the United States and use our nation for colonization by 600 million Chinese. As for we Americans, well there IS the example of Dachau and Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Jewish people will NEVER forget those horrible places. But long before the Chinese are ready for that, they will use the canal and superships they are building to transport our American and Canadian oil to use for their industry to make more imports to beggar us and to take the rest of our jobs. Then they will use that industry again to build their invasion fleet. Soviet pol. Vishinsky in 1937 predicted that we would supply the rope for our own hanging. Only this time it is a drowning in treason borne of our apathy and ignorance.
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2015
What do the people of Nicaragua think about it? Its offensive to me that the rest of the world seems to think they have a say in what the country of Nicaragua does.
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 04, 2015
That XY pipeline the Chinese and their bought and paid for republican traitors in our government so desperatly want is another part of the Chinese engine for future defeat, enslavement, and genocide of America. Not so much as a few hundred low paying jobs will EVER come of it for ordinary American workers. The whole thing is an ENEMY criminal enterprise, both that new Chinese built and guarded pipeline AND the new Chinese owned and controlled and military garissoned Nicaraguan Canal. Time to wake up, Americans, or do you still think you can call yourselves such. Look how low Ukraine sunk. We are no better.
1.6 / 5 (10) Mar 04, 2015
I've determined that most environmentalists must be the spawn of vegetarians and vegans as they were obviously deficient in essential lipids and amino acids in youth which was detrimental to their brain development.
1 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2015
The Chinese are not white. They don t have the right to do this.
Whydening Gyre
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2015
The Chinese are not white. They don t have the right to do this.

What's white got to do with it? It's a beige-people territory...
1 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2015
Beige or whatever. It s run by white people from Spain.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2015
It looks like danny ort has gone mad in recent years in any event. Madura next on the cuuko clock face in a long line of stupid acting latinos, or just mentally ill. The later more likely sorry to cast aspersions.. US diplomats have said btw, "we are not worried if it is built for chin hostility we will take it over" (slight paraphrase).
So this will fail to happen pretty soon I think, incidentally instability reeks within all these economies down here they are looking limp and even panama where I am writing from has not seemed to grow in the last several years. Take away cartel realty behemoths in Pana city that is, numbers spinning off canal construction are baked imho. I am not convinced the guys behind the canal in nic are all in on this regardless of who they are, reality says there is no money to be made once completed. And the old adage holds true Birds of a feather flock together and so it would figure the HK dude is mentally ill too once worlds clues hit him
1 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2015
The naivety of this website is comical.

Do they really think the Chinese care about any of these things? This not about physics or the envirnoment, this is about geopolitics which clearly doesn't have a clue about.

A fine example of socialist progress.
4.5 / 5 (8) Mar 05, 2015
The Chinese are not white. They don t have the right to do this.

Um...did you get the memo about sarcasm not working that well on the internet?
4.3 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2015
The latest news is that China is experiencing financial issues and is actually deeply in debt - and when we all stop buying Chinese goods, this canal is not needed anyway ! What we are watching is the gradual destruction of the planet by corporations and governments with no interest in anything but power and money, and our grandchildren will curse us all. The planet will survive but we are doomed - unless Fukishima causes the population to be greatly reduced in which case there will be no market for China's crappy goods and the canal is not needed - on every front this canal is a very bad thing !!!!
1 / 5 (7) Mar 05, 2015
Sad, a political essay masquerading as a science article. Just because a bilief is held by a scientist doesn't make that belief scientific.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2015
Comments above cover everything; I got up this morning thinking that any dystopian novel about Earth's future has or will shortly come true, and geologically speaking, the reworking of Panama has already occurred when the land mass drifted in from the West and connected North American to South America. Oh, and the deal with the govs involved is to allow the Chinese all the concessions of land they acquire in their building efforts EVEN IF the canal building ceases.
5 / 5 (8) Mar 05, 2015
Ah yes, plants and animals are more important than humans, of course.

You are awre what happens when you connect a small sweet water body with two large salt water bodies (especially if you drive a lot of vehicles through it that are not notable for being very carefull with keeping their oil on board)?

They WANT that canal for all the troopships and aircraft carriers that they can push through it to invade the United States

You are aware of this thing called a "map"? Have you ever even looked at a map of the planet? Try it sometime. The Chinese do not need a canal to reach the US by ship (if they had a deep water navy that is - which they don't, BTW)
2 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2015
Global Warming is not on the minds of the Chinese, look at their countries air supply ! That is what they want to do to the world ! More, and more of the Earth's forest are going to farming, and cities ! People WAKE UP ! Plant a tree for every year you live, that will give our kid's kids hope to survive without mask ! Nicaraquan"s are not the smartest people on earth, but, they are part of the collective ! Don't let this travesty happen to our world 1
5 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2015
cant say for certain either way dwtwte. but China is certainly feigning an interest in reducing their ecological impacts, if nothing else.

and its terrible that so many folks are so quick to stereotype thousands, then millions, and even billions of people because of their government. i have to imagine these are the same folks that inaccurately believe Americans to be respected the world over
3 / 5 (2) Mar 06, 2015
To think that bribes didn't happen would be the pinnacle of ignorance. That an ecological disaster is in the offing isn't quite such a no-brainer, but it's close. There are way too many unknown variables left in the equation to make a reasoned decision, yet apparently one has been made. How can it NOT be disastrous in some manner?
5 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2015
Love the way hate evolves, look when you use the term Chinese that means all Chinese people everywhere. So the fact that Americans have caused more destabilization in the world than anyone else does that mean all Americans agree with a very small elite group .... its called corruption this Wan Yin mentioned in a previous comments does he speak for all Chinese, no he is a corrupt pile of male cow feces that doesn't mean all Chinese agree. I just wish people who feel an injustice would refrain from generalizations like this. Say the mans/womans name and shame them not the culture they come from. All cultures everywhere where arses at one point get over it.

This is corruption nothing more, if everyone wants to stop this the best way is to no reward companies that create this corruption... uh oh I need to stop buying nike, prada, apple, microsoft, any and all energy companies... don't feed the monsters out there. I know it's much easier said then done, but at least try.
1 / 5 (3) Mar 07, 2015
They should just widen the Panama canal enough for 2 way traffic, remove the locks, and let the ocean levels equalize :)
3 / 5 (2) Mar 07, 2015
Americans have caused more destabilization in the world

Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Khomeni, Hitler, Imperial Japan, Noriega, ....were Americans?
1 / 5 (2) Mar 07, 2015
US 'liberals' have professed how they envy the communist Chinese govt for being able to impose their laws at will.
Why don't US 'liberals' admire their socialist comrades in Nicaragua and China for such a grand project for 'the people'?
not rated yet Mar 08, 2015
off topic to scumbags: in the afterlife, I will find you and I AM going to eat your souls, very slowly.

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