Scientists question rush to build Nicaragua canal

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

Washington: 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 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, feel scientists.

"The biggest environmental challenge is to build and operate the canal without catastrophic impacts to this sensitive ecosystem," said environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez of the Rice University.

"Significant impacts to the lake could result from incidental or accidental spills from 5,100 ships passing through every year and invasive species brought by transoceanic ships, which could threaten the extinction of aquatic plants and fish."

"Frequent dredging would impact aquatic life through alterations in turbidity and hypoxia," Alvarez, co-corresponding author of the study, added.

A private company is building the 275-kilometre, $50-billion canal in collaboration with the Nicaraguan government.

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 82-kilometre Panama Canal.

Alvarez and his colleagues anticipate the project will impact Nicaragua`s lucrative eco-tourism and the supply of fresh water for drinking, irrigation and power generation.

"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," the researchers wrote.

Nicaragua is among countries considered most vulnerable to climate change.

The paper was published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology.