A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[LINK] “Why the Plan to Dig a Canal Across Nicaragua Could Be a Very Bad Idea”

Greg Miller’s Wired Science article explaining the Nicaragua Canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans is a worthy read. This canal, currently being promoted by the Nicaraguan government in conjunction with Chinese investors, could have serious environmental consequences, by dividing areas of land and uniting hitherto-separate bodies of water. (A background of extensive seismic and even volcanic activity complicates.)

A final route for the canal has not yet been announced, but the proposed routes pass through Lake Nicaragua, which covers about six times the area of Los Angeles and is Central America’s largest lake.

The lake is a major source of drinking water and irrigation, and home to rare freshwater sharks and other fish of commercial and scientific value, Huete-Pérez and Meyer say. The forest around it is home to howler monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, and countless tropical birds–not to mention several groups of indigenous people (some of whom have challenged the project in court, so far to no avail).

Meyer, who’s done field work in Nicaragua for 30 years, says the area is a natural laboratory for evolutionary biology. Just as Darwin’s finches evolved into different species as they adapted to the unique environment of individual islands, so it goes with fish as they’ve colonized the region’s network of crater lakes. “These crater lakes are like islands in a sea of land from a fish’s perspective,” said Meyer, who has been characterizing genetic changes in the region’s cichlid fish populations.

[. . .]

Huete-Pérez and Meyer worry primarily about the dredging necessary to accommodate massive container ships: The proposed canal is 90 feet deep; the lake averages just 50 feet. “The initial digging would create a huge sediment issue that would be bad for water quality in the lake and the wetlands around it,” Meyer said.

Pedro Alvarez, a civil and environmental engineer at Rice University raises another water-related concern. It may be necessary to dam the San Juan River, the main route for water flowing out of the lake, to keep the water levels high enough for the canal’s locks to work properly, Alvarez says. “If you do that you’re going to change the hydrology of many lakes and rivers,” he said. “Some may dry up.”

Lovejoy sees other potential problems. He’s especially worried about creating a conduit between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. “It’s creating the potential for an enormous invasive species problem,” he said. That problem could include venomous Pacific sea snakes invading the Caribbean and a disruption of Caribbean fisheries from an influx of competing species, predators and disease.

[. . .]

The seismic risks may have been overblown for political purposes. But they’re not negligible, and they probably represent the worst-case scenario, says Alvarez, the engineer from Rice University. “Releasing a dam could be a catastrophic event that I don’t even want to think about,” he said.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2014 at 1:30 am

Posted in Politics, Science

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