Article

The Nicaragua Canal

Surfers brace for ecological disaster as construction becomes closer to reality

| posted on February 26, 2014
Nobody wants to see these sandbars threatened. Cory Lopez, Nicaragua. Photo: Ellis.

Nobody wants to see these sandbars threatened. Cory Lopez, Nicaragua. Photo: Ellis.

In January, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega announced that construction would begin later this year on a controversial $40 billion, 180-mile long waterway through the middle of his country that would rival the Panama Canal. The Pacific entrance of the Nicaragua Canal would be cut very near the heart of Nicaragua’s surf zone, just south of Playa Colorado, and north of the beachbreaks of San Juan del Sur. It’s safe to say that the surf spots surrounding the mouth of the canal would be impacted dramatically. Though plans had been in the works for well over a year, few took them seriously until Ortega’s announcement.

For nearly 200 years, developers have floated plans to build a canal through Nicaragua that would link the Pacific to the Caribbean. U.S. government interests made at least three separate attempts to finalize a Nicaraguan canal project in the 19th Century before they finally abandoned Nicaragua for Panama in 1904. Plans were shelved for a time, but in the 1980s Asian investors once again began sniffing around the idea of a Nicaraguan answer to the Panama Canal. In 2013 President Ortega signed a concession with a Hong Kong-based company, HKND, that granted the company exclusive rights to finance and build a canal. That same year the Nicaraguan congress passed legislation approving the agreement, which also granted HKND what amounted to 50-year control of the proposed canal and any related projects.

The planned route.

The planned route.

Advocates for the plan claim that as many as one million jobs will be created, a much needed economic boost to one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere. Environmentalists, however, are outraged that the plans are shrouded in secrecy, and that no steps seem to have been taken to preserve sensitive ecosystems that would be devastated by the construction. The president of the Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences recently published a paper in the journal Nature pointing out that the canal, as proposed, would threaten Lake Nicaragua, the nation’s largest freshwater drinking supply, bisect two nature reserves, destroy nearly 1 million acres of rainforest, obliterate coral reef and mangrove systems on both the Caribbean and the Pacific sides of the country, and possibly displace at least five indigenous communities in the area.

HKND is also under scrutiny, as they’ve no record of serious infrastructure development, and a spotty track record of following through on large-scale international development projects. That could mean either that the project goes nowhere, as have Nicaraguan canal plans in the past—though this one has come closer than most to bearing fruit. Or that the company proceeds anyway with little idea of how to feasibly manage such a massive undertaking. The country waits.

Read more about Nicaragua in The Coveted Coast, a feature in our March Issue about the country’s tourism boom amid its development and foreign interests.

  • sadmanguydude

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

    • FTW

      This would just ruin a beautiful, tiny country. On the plane, looking down on that lake, with those two volcanos, was one of the best views I’ve ever seen. Put a bunch of container ships hauling useless consumer junk across would not be quite so pretty. The surf breaks will still work , just dirtier and ugly. Fuck the future. Humans are a disease.

  • Armazem Conceição Nilson

    Usa Panama x China Nicarágua. In the world control two forces against the nature…

    Nobody wins!

  • brotha moves on

    “the canal, as proposed, would threaten Lake Nicaragua, the nation’s largest freshwater drinking supply,”

    Isn’t Lake Nicaragua filled with sharks and salt water?

    • roller coaster

      are you thinking of lake titicaca and the blind sharks ?

    • poole_st

      It has sharks, but they’re bull sharks and are adapted to live in fresh water.

      • Howard Hodges

        everyone speaks of sharks but nothing about swordfish that live in the Rio San Juan or the lake , we also have otters that live in the fresh water , Lake Nicaragua

    • kyle

      no lake nicaragua is freshwater lake with freshwater sharks. I believe the only place jn the world with freshwater sharks.

    • tylerp311

      Its fresh water and has a local population of bull sharks.

    • Jesus

      Filled with sharks yes, salt water no. Bull sharks swim up river from the Caribbean side and live in the lake.

    • El NICA

      The Great Nicaraguan Lake is the one of the largest freshwater reserve in the world, the sharks is a Freshwater shark “tiburones de agua dulce” they dont need sea water to survive, and the lake is not filled with them anymore, there are only a few left, wich is very sad, since is a indigenous shark. Im Nicaraguan myself, and the news are shocking, since we “need” the canal to create jobs, but it would destroy a lot of things that make Nicaragua beautiful.

    • Mike

      Yes it’s

    • Evan

      Yes and No. There are Sharks in the lake including Bull Sharks but the water ifs fresh water.

  • James B

    Bad, bad news!!!!!

  • DuckmySick

    Those bastards can duck my sick! Terrible idea.

  • Raphaella

    The fact that people can overlook such a disaster of events that would result from this is what is sickening about the ever expanding globalization in business.

  • DomdeNica

    as someone living and having lived on both the lake and the pacific i think this is the worst idea ever for a country that was on the right pace towards a sustainable form of eco tourism and surf tourism. Brito has many beaches that have long been used by sea turtles to lay eggs and i dont suppose massive super tankers are going to do anything but drive them away. If the lake was poluted enough by Nicaraguans in places such as Granada already this will surely cause the already feeble lake system to collapse, and apart from the countries GDP instantly doubling and mass jobs being created i see hardly any positive outcome in the long term with this project

  • Emilio Badilla Oconitrillo

    I am a surfer myself, and i agree that ecological impact & surf impact will be generated in Nicaragua… But what about Costa Rica? no one dares to post in a US magazine, newspaper, ext,..ALSO what Nicaraguan “Government” had done to the Costarrican´s wild life, and not even mentioning the Outrage of Nicaragua crossing the border and destroying OUR ecosystem, we Costaricans had the opportunity as well to proceed long time ago, with a canal throughout our country, but we didn’t, we value more our small, but rich ecosystem, and Nicaraguan government has cross the Border with military force, and has destroyed a huge amount of wildlife around the San Juan river (our border) and going deep into our territory, and there is nothing Costa Rica can do, but to watch, (we have no army) our country banned army decades ago, and international press, or governments do nothing to help this Army-less & ecological Mindful Country.

    • JcCerda90 – NICARAGUA!!

      SHUT THE FUCK UP U LIAR, UR GOVERNMENT HAS CREATED A FALSE POLITICAL CURTAIN TO COVER UP THEIR SHIT, THEIR CORRUPTION AND FUCKED UP DECISIONS… MRS. CHINCHILLA HAS BEEN THE WORST RATED PRESIDENT IN YEARS! WE HAVE A BIGGER AND HEALTHIER ECOSYSTEM, THE DECISION OF UR GOVERNMENT OF BUILDING A ROAD PARALLEL TO OUR SAN JUAN RIVER HAS DESTROYED MANY OF OUR MANGROVE AND FAUNA

      • party of common sense

        Puta vida. Everyone knows costa rica sold it s soul for the american dollar. Thieves, drugs, and too many tourist. Cost more to travel in CR then anywhere in CA. And the waves just arent that good!

    • Sigh

      It should be duly noted that Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans dint generally like each other. I’ve travelled to both and I can tell you that Nicaragua has more culture than Costa Rica could ever dream of. Beyond that, care to talk about your country’s involvement with the American military?! Your country was by far the least interesting place in Centro. You want to talk about destroying nature? You let tourists shit all over your country. It’s not called the 51st state for nothing. Nicaragua may has its problems but take a look at yourselves for christ’s sake.

  • Marc Halikas

    “The canal, as proposed, would threaten Lake Nicaragua, the nation’s
    largest freshwater drinking supply, bisect two nature reserves, destroy
    nearly 1 million acres of rainforest, obliterate coral reef and mangrove
    systems on both the Caribbean and the Pacific sides of the country, and
    possibly displace at least five indigenous communities in the area”.
    BIG money don’t care! :-(

  • Stu Azole

    why do surfers care about this? It’ll impact pretty much nothing on the coast.

  • Nice vignette

    Nice vignette, but not an actual photograph.

  • Billy Bob

    Don’t know if it right or wrong, but we’re sitting in our nice houses debating what’s right for another country. There are millions of people that live there in poverty. And who are we, to say what’s right, when where we live and work, was once once natural habitat, that we destroyed to live our luxurious lives?

    • Carlos

      Excelent response, Billy thank you very much. I am a Nicaraguan citizen, living in poverty, we have no Jobs and 42% of our people live with less than $2.00 two miserable dollars a day. In other words, for you to understand better our economical reality, come down here to Nicaragua and experience living with less than two dollars a day. After that experience which I believe, will be too dramatic for you, then and only then I can accept your critics. We need jobs! Now, are the people who criticize the Nicaragua canal going to give us jobs? Are you guys in the USA or Europe going to invest in our beautiful country and hire all these 42% of unemployed nicaraguan citizens, who need to eat everyday just like you guys do?

      • DAVID

        FIRST YOUR WRONG ABOUT 2 DOLLARS A DAY THEY MAKE AT LEAST 100 CORDS A DAY WICH IS LIKE 4 DOLLARS AND IF THEY DO BUILD THE CANAL AND CREATE JOBS THEY WILL STILL ONLY MAKE LESS THAN 200 CORDS A DAY . SO YES PEOPLE WILL HAVE A JOBS AT LEAST BUT IT WILL RUIN THE COUNTRY . JUST THE AIRPORT ALONE THEY ARE BULIDING IN TOLA WILL MAKE NICARAGUA A LITTLE LESS DESIRABLE FOR Foreign investment AND THE CANAL WILL FUCK UP ALL THE THINGS THAT MAKE NICARAGUA A SPECIAL PLACE .IT WILL RUIN , REEFS , MANGROVES , BEACHES ,SURF SPOTS AND WILDLIFE RESERVES . I ASLO OWN A FEW PROPERTIES AND THE IDEA OF THE CANAL MAKES ME SO MAD AND ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE WHO LIVE NEAR THE PROJECT , INCLUDING LOCAL FISHERMAN AND FARMERS

  • cheesepuffs

    Play Colorado is only 8-10 miles North of Brito….NO!!!!

  • miguel espinoza

    Joder Yo soy de Nicaragua vivo en Playa colorados y no estoy
    de acuerdo con ese canal creo que es mala idea y no me gusta para nada prefiero
    ser pobre antes de estar bajo mando de otros países que solo vienen a robar a
    los mas pobre de Nicaragua vienen a
    contaminar este país mas de lo que ya esta antes era mas bonito mas limpio ahora esta sucio lleno de turista de mierda
    solo traen basura mas enfermedades antes era mas sano No necesitamos ese canal y
    no queremos mas turista go away

  • miguel espinoza

    Puta vida. Everyone knows costa rica sold it s soul for the american dollar. Thieves, drugs, and too many tourist. Cost more to travel in CR then anywhere in CA. And the waves just arent that good!

  • Chalo Jr

    Rather than arguing with fools on this subject who will bring me down to their level of foolishness and beat me with their experience let me give you a quick 5 minute overview.

    Wealthy Chinese investors, incentivised with tax exemptions will buy up over 80% of the countries real estate making it impossible for Nicaraguans to own their own home or to successfully operate a business due to high level of competition from overseas investors who are financially backed and bypass paying tax.

    The Canal will leave Nicaragua with additional debt of over $40 billion in future money, the Canals structural integrity will likely reach half-life in 50 years and full life within 100 years and will likely require a complete rebuild which will also impact earnings. If a the Chinese construction company
    uses sub-standard products and lacks the attention to detail needed (which is often seen across Chinese construction sites) the Canals half-life would be much shorter and as Nicaragua’s ownership in the project increases the profits will be absorbed by repairs and operational costs which will likely be paid to Chinese operations.

    Nicaraguans will get screwed by the Chinese, by the time they realise it will be too late to reverse as the country will be financially dependent, the Chinese will practically own 80% of Nicaraguan industries and Nicaraguans will be modern day slaves. Nicaraguan politics will be influenced by 99% of the wealth placing unrealistic tax prices on the labour force whilst taxes are reduced for businesses. Barriers to owning and operating a business successfully will be hard for Nicaraguans as they will likely make up 99% of the workforce on a minimum wage with the most qualified earning merely $450 a month, if lucky. The overpriced entry to real estate ownership and high real estate rental prices and a steady CPI on GDP will lead the future of Nicaraguan constituents to complete obliteration. Did I forget the most obvious, the racial subdivide that will see Nicaragua controlled by a Chinese president and all Nicaraguan Natives (Afro-Native Americans and Native Americans) racially subdivided and placed into the lower class of Nicaraguan society that’s purely based on racial features.

    Are those involved in the decision to build the Canal through Nicaragua truly representing their constituents, NO!

    Chalo Jr 2014