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Scientists Wary About Environmental Effects Of Canal-Building Project In Nicaragua

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Scientists are concerned about the environmental impact of the building of the Nicaragua Canal.

The Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal project aims to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The construction of the canal entails cutting through Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua, which is Central America's key freshwater reservoir and also the biggest tropical freshwater lake found in North and South America.

The canal project is expected to be completed by 2019 and create a new shipping route via Nicaragua. Once constructed, around 5,100 ships are estimated to pass the canal each year. It would stretch about 180 miles across the country.

Around 30,000 people in the region will have to be re-allocated to carve out the route for the canal's construction.

An international team of scientists believes the project will have a number of adverse effects on the ecosystem of the area. The scientists see a great challenge in building, as well as operating, the big canal.

There could be an impact on the lake due to accidental and incidental spillage caused by the passing of ships.

The passage of vessels could also bring along invasive species of fish and plants that threaten the native species of the region.

"Invasive species brought by transoceanic ships, which could threaten the extinction of aquatic plants and fish, such as the cichlids that have been evolving since the lake's formation," says Pedro Alvarez, an environmental engineer at the Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Alvarez is one of the 21 co-authors of the article, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, from 18 institutions across the U.S., South America and Central America.

Dredging will be required to ensure large ships can pass through the canal. Frequent dredging means dispersing sediments, which lower oxygen levels in the water, resulting in the demise of many marine life forms.

Water from Lake Nicaragua is used for irrigation, drinking and generation of power. Once the canal is constructed, the water will not be suitable for drinking and irrigation.

As environmentalists predict early on the negative impact of the actual building of the canal, they also believe there could be more environmental concerns emerging once the canal has been completed.

Scientists are calling for the project to be postponed until deep assessment of environment effects are conducted.

The rival Panama Canal, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of its opening in August 2014, spans the isthmus in about 50 miles. The Panama Canal also is finishing an expansion to add a wider third lane to accommodate larger container ships, with the project expected to be completed next year.

Check out a short video about the Nicaragua Canal project.

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