Nicaragua Canal would increase threat to endangered species
Nicaragua still retains large areas of habitat for mammal populations in Central America, mostly in its Caribbean region. The Nicaragua canal which is being developed by the Hong Kong Nicaragua Development Group (HDNK) represents a threat to wildlife.
Along with forest loss, biodiversity has declined and resulted in the isolation of species in increasingly small protected areas. The illegal taking of indigenous and afro-descendant population lands by cattle ranchers has severely degraded and destroyed three nature reserves since 2000.
A study published in Plos One by researchers from Panthera, Global Wildlife Conservation and Michigan State University analyses the potential effects the construction of the canal would have in mammals habitats in the southern Caribbean region of Nicaragua. Within the endangered species are the jaguar, white-lipped peccary and the Baird's tapir.
The concession given to HKND allows the company to develop other infrastructure along the canal, including, holiday resorts, an international airport, roads, oil pipelines, a power station, two deep water ports and a cement factory.
The canal route, which sits mostly in agricultural land (already unpopulated by the species), would cut through a forest corridor that runs along the Caribbean coast and is one of the three areas the study predicted as ideal for mammal's conservation.
“What is of most concern to us is one of the areas under the greatest threat is where the canal is going to go,” said Roberto Salom, the Mesoamerican coordinator for Panthera’s jaguar program to Mongabay. “In this middle portion of the country, it is critical to have another stepping stone for the jaguars to travel from north to south.”
The artificial Lake Atlanta, planned to fill the canal, would flood most of the habitat of the three endangered species mentioned above, the study concluded. It would also create a barrier for mammal's population on either side of the canal, this would affect genetic mixing.
They recommend adjusting the location or size of Lake Atlanta to minimize flooding and creating small islands along its eastern edge to allow the flow of animals. Committing to protect the remaining forest regions and including mechanisms that allow the animals to cross the canal are other recommendations.
We are talking about one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the history of the planet, so we would hope that if it does go forward that these recommendations would be taken seriously,” concluded Wes Sechrest, chief scientist at Global Wildlife Conservation.
Although the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) of the project was released by HKND last November, an environmental mitigation plan was not made public and not even the risk of extinction to endangered species in Nicaragua was considered.
Still the 175 mile waterway project is backed by the Nicaraguan government and the canal's construction is expected to begin this fall.