The most likely route of the HKND’s canal is 286 kilometers long and would cut an approximately 90-kilometer swathe across Lake Nicaragua, requiring a major transformation of the lake bed and local rivers. To rival the expanded Panama Canal (slated for completion in 2015) by accommodating ships of up to 400,000 tons, the proposed Nicaraguan waterway will be 27.6 meters deep, and the HKND has claimed that it may be an implausible 520 meters wide.
Scientific American– “Last June, the Nicaraguan government granted a concession to a Hong Kong company to build a canal connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, through the Caribbean Sea. The HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company (operating as HKND Group) signed a 50-year lease, renewable for another 50 years. It plans to break ground in December after spending this year establishing a route and conducting feasibility studies. Included in the concession are the rights to build and operate industrial centers, airports, a rail system and oil pipelines, as well as land expropriation and the rights to natural resources found along the canal route.
The Nicaraguan government says that the $40-billion project will boost economic growth in the country — the second-poorest nation in the Americas — from 4.5% in 2013 to 14.6% in 2016. No economic or environmental feasibility studies have yet been revealed to the public. Nicaragua has not solicited its own environmental impact assessment and will rely instead on a study commissioned by the HKND. The company has no obligation to reveal the results to the Nicaraguan public.
In our view, this canal could create an environmental disaster in Nicaragua and beyond. The excavation of hundreds of kilometers from coast to coast, traversing Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region, will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rainforests and wetlands.
The accompanying development could imperil surrounding ecosystems. Some 240 kilometers north of the most likely route of the canal lies the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve — 2 million hectares of tropical forest that is the last refuge of many disappearing species (see ‘Nicaragua carve-up‘). Less than 115 kilometers to the south is the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve, with more than 318,000 hectares of tropical dry forest. Worse still, the probable canal route cuts through the northern sector of the Cerro Silva Natural Reserve.
The project threatens multiple autonomous indigenous communities such as the Rama, Garifuna, Mayangna, Miskitu and Ulwa, and some of the most fragile, pristine and scientifically important marine, terrestrial and lacustrine ecosystems in Central America.
Nicaragua’s Indio Maiz and Bosawas biosphere reserves — key links in this corridor — sandwich possible canal routes. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of the forests and wetlands would be cleared for the canal, destroying the habitats and food sources of already endangered species such as the Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii), the spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) and the jaguar (Panthera onca), a creature of mystical importance to Mesoamerican cultures.
The contract for an interoceanic canal in Nicaragua represents a classic example of the challenges faced by a developing country in balancing economic growth and environmental protection. More sustainable ways to raise revenue and employment from Lake Nicaragua could include expanded irrigation, tourism and aquaculture. The population of Nicaragua is expected to grow by 37% by 2050, so water shortages and pressure on natural resources are already set to increase, limiting sustainable growth and public welfare. In preparation for a future of climate change, food insecurity and biodiversity loss, Nicaragua must establish long-term measures for the protection of its environment, not sacrifice itself to speculators.
A loose coalition of more than 30 concerned groups filed legal complaints with the government of Nicaragua in the second half of last year. These included three communities — the Miskitu and Ulwa indigenous peoples and the Rama–Kriol territorial government in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region — arguing that the canal concession violates their land rights and legal autonomy (see go.nature.com/ttshoc). These legal petitions were overridden by the National Assembly in December.
Swift and decisive international action is called for. The Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences (of which one of us, J.A.H.-P., is president) is coordinating efforts with the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences to carry out an independent impact assessment. We need more conservation groups and social organizations to lend their expertise and funds if we are to prevent the tragic devastation of indigenous communities along with terrestrial, marine and freshwater biodiversity and resources in Central America.”
Full Article & Breakdown of Specific Environmental Concerns Here – Scientific American