Personalizing the Nicaraguan Canal Project


“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.” ~ Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

This is what the locals on Ometepe Island think of the proposed Nicaraguan Canal Project.
IMG_3961                                                           NO to the Canal!

Let me personalize the Nicaraguan Canal Project for those of you who are not familiar with Ometepe Island because personalizing our oasis of peace will give you a better understanding of the ecological disaster lurking like the grim reaper in Ometepe’s future.

Plans are for the projected route to pass on, or very near to the southern end of the island, with the impact of the swath to affect nearly 1/2 of our island. In order for the canal to be deep enough for the giant cargo ships, they will have to prepare the bedrock of Lake Cocibolca by dynamiting the entire length of the canal through the lake. No environmental impact studies have been prepared for public scrutiny.

Ometepe Island was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2010. What that means is that our island of peace was selected “to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science.” ( UNESCO Ecological Sciences for Sustainable Development website).

We are prohibited from cutting our trees, and we need a permit to own a chainsaw. Any wood cut illegally from Ometepe Island is confiscated, the owner is put in jail, and the vehicle used to transport the wood is confiscated.

Ometepe Islanders, “Ometepinos”, seek to preserve cultural, biological, economical, and social diversity through partnerships between people and nature. Innovative approaches to sustainable development are found everywhere on Ometepe Island, from community recycling projects to sustainable tourism to cultural preservation of Pre-Columbian artifacts.

Every ten years, UNESCO reviews the status of a biosphere reserve, which represents an opportunity to carry out a qualitative survey of the actions implemented and their results. Our periodic review will take place in June, 2020. The projected Nicaraguan canal is to be completed in 2019. As of August 2013, 13 biosphere reserve sites have been withdrawn from the UNESCO register.

thanks to Nature, International Weekly Journal of Science for the map

thanks to Nature, International Weekly Journal of Science for the map

Our 106.6 sq. mile island has a majestic active volcano, Concepcion Volcano, whose last eruption occurred in 2012. Her current status is “restless”. Last Sunday, there was a small burp of ash and sulfur from our beautiful restless giant. There is an active fault line in the lake where the projected canal route will be dynamited. We have frequent earthquakes on Ometepe Island. Dynamite + restless volcano + active fault line = a dangerous cocktail.

IMG_2195Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, is an island biosphere reserve in the biggest freshwater reservoir in the country, Cocibolca Lake or Lake Nicaragua. The site’s name in the local Nahuatl language is “island of two hills”, referring to its two volcanoes. The surrounding lake serves as an important source of freshwater, as well as habitat for exceptional species, e.g. freshwater sawfish, Nicaraguan freshwater shark and many others.

Ometepe Island is composed of a unique elfin forest, part of the famous cloud forests, which are habitats that are globally endangered. Our mountain forests are cool and rainy with a high proportion of endemic species of plants and animals, many not even described to science, yet. Ometepe’s relative isolation has led to the evolution of many unique plant and animal species. It is also an important site for migratory birds traveling south from North America. Fauna and Flora International has been working on Ometepe since 2005 to protect the island’s precious wildlife.

The island is home to some 40,000 people and its rich pre-Columbian vestiges (petroglyphs, statues, ceramics) demonstrate its long history of human settlements. Current activities include community-based ecotourism. Ometepe Island is an agricultural  community. Growing in its rich volcanic soil is special tobacco (used to make the outer leaf of some of the finest cigars in the world), plantains exported throughout Central and North America, rice, sugar cane, and red beans ( a staple in every Nicaraguan home).


Lake Cocibolca is the biggest fresh water reservoir in the country. Due to its water volume, Lake Cocibolca is considered the most important water source in Nicaragua. Various cities in its basin, such as San Juan del Sur and Juilgalpa, have developed initiatives to take advantage of its water for potable water use. The governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica share their concerns and cooperatively developed the Strategic Action Plan for Integrated Water Resource Management.

The approval of the general Law of National Waters in Nicaragua on May 15th, 2007 aims to establish integral legislation for national waters in accordance with the National Water Resource Policy. It’s purpose is to establish “an institutional legal framework for the administration, conservation, development, use, sustainable and equitable exploitation, and the preservation of quality and quantity of the existing water resources in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua Management Plan for Lake Cocibolca in pdf format.

IMG_1420I have lived on Ometepe Island for ten years. Our oasis of peace is a UNESCO model of sustainability and an example to the world of how careful planning, development, sustainable tourism, and agricultural innovations can exist peacefully with our natural surroundings.

This year has been exceptionally hard on our farmers and our livestock. The effects of El Niño have dried up our fields, killed our livestock, and monetarily reduced our local economy. The price of red beans and rice is out of reach for most local residents. The drought has devastated our island of peace. Water is scarce and our wells are drying up.  Are water wars in our future?

I leave you with more questions than answers about the effects of the proposed Nicaraguan Canal. What will happen to Ometepe Island? With transparency and public environmental impact studies, many of these questions could be answered.

1. How will the proposed canal affect our largest water reservoir in Nicaragua?

2. What will the impact of the proposed canal be on our flora and fauna on Ometepe Island?

3. Will the proposed canal increase or decrease our economy on Ometepe Island?

4. How dangerous is dynamite to our aquatic species in Lake Cocibolca?

5. Will the construction awaken our restless Concepcion volcano or our active fault line?

6. At what cost? This, to me is the most important question. At what cost do we blindly accept the proposed Nicaraguan Canal Project?

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16 thoughts on “Personalizing the Nicaraguan Canal Project

  1. Reblogged this on Petchary's Blog and commented:
    I am sharing this post from a fellow blogger in Nicaragua. In light of what we are going through with Goat Islands/Portland Bight Protected Area, this situation sounds familiar. And what a simply beautiful place! A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve…

  2. Oh dear, I think I lost my comment! I am writing from Jamaica, where there is a proposed transshipment port to be built in the Portland Bight Protected Area, also by the Chinese – as part of the thrust to capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal (and maybe the Nicaragua Canal, which I hope NEVER happens?) Incidentally the government had applied for the area to be a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, but suddenly withdrew the application late last year after some agreements had been signed with the Chinese. There are some things in your post that have a familiar ring to me: the importance of environmental impact studies, and the importance of information and transparency. Looks like you have a fight in your hands. Well, I am in your corner. (Please take a look at Jamaica Environment Trust’s savegoatislands.org website and there is also a petition – Facebook page and JET website). I would suggest DON’T wait – be proactive if you can. Just in case…

    • Petchary, I had no idea that this was happening in Jamaica, too. How does one fight against the lack of transparency? If I had a clue what the proposed effects of a canal would be, I could gather facts, file petitions, etc. I’m in the dark and it’s not a pretty place to be. Last week, a delegation of the canal administrators were on the mainland beginning negotiations with some land owners. Blinded by ignorance, I’m in a scary place right now. I’m not sure how to begin the fight, except to create an awareness.

  3. Do you really think this will happen? this canal? It just doesn’t seem to make any sense. Panama has a canal and a huge expansion underway that should handle all the traffic in the region. Is there enough business to support another canal? Beyond your lake, there is a long stretch of land to deal with before you get to the Caribbean. What is going to happen there? I see nature reserves there too. It sounds to me like a total mess, and expensive, and unnecessary, with tons of collateral damage. And of course if it happens your beautiful lake and island will never be the same even if no disasters happen during construction.

  4. i read this earlier but was unable to comment. now i am at the hostal and uploading/downloading/catching up…

    thank you for presenting/representing the voice of the locals. i am surprised that so few people commented – i expected a long queue of interesting feedback… perhaps many have that ‘words fail me’ exasperation – or maybe this is new to many so they are absorbing what you have to share.

    i cannot imagine the damage that dynamiting would do to your area. my stomach turns at the thought, and my mind races in many directions. the fresh-water sharks – goodness, that species alone warrants high-profile protection… the yet-to-be discovered artifacts – my first trip to ometepe was to view and study the petroglyphs… the sleeping and sometimes-burping concepcion – please please please don’t wake the baby…. the comatose maderos (?) may it never come back from its deep sleep.. the most obvious stomach-turning effect would be the ongoing noise pollution and possibly earth-shaking obtrusion on your daily lives… one would want to either roll up the carpets and leave for the sake of personal sanity or else dig in and attempt to fight/stop/halt the approaching monster. of course the ones who would benefit from this financially would argue and point out reasons why this is a good change.

    you have my deepest sympathies.

    z

    • Oh, Z. Thank you for your sympathies. There is always hope! Hope that the “powers that be” come to their senses…hope that a detailed environmental impact study will be made public…hope that an environmental impact study would prove my assumptions wrong…hope that the canal never happens…and hope that if it does happen, there are only wonderful improvements and enhancements to Ometepe Island. Rumor has it that a mega resort is to be built on Ometepe, funded, of course, by the company of Wang Jing.
      I don’t understand why I haven’t received more comments. I think there are too many things happening in this world right now, and we can’t possibly absorb all the problems of the world.

      • Sadly, they went ahead and did the first part of the project already with changes already evident in the park’s natural environment. But even more sadly some indirect repercussions got attention about a year ago when there was a giant mudslide that killed two children in a school group collecting fossils. The City of Saint Paul had been warned many times about Mississippi River bluff instability and erosion issues that needed urgent priority. But they never had even had a few thousand $$ to do a study, while they had $$ millions for their unneeded road and buildings etc. Now they’re paying more $$ out in lawsuits (on which they are attempting to keep legal records closed).
        Anyway, the sad moral is that even in a supposedly transparent society these things seem to happen when money and ego are top priorities – with little people usually being the ones most injured. But Mother Nature is always the one with the final word – as I’m sure she also will be in the Ometepe and canal situation.
        We all just have to do what we can – as you are wonderfully doing along with The Lorax – to keep spreading the word and hope someone will listen in time.

  5. Your personal concerns about the integrity and impact of this project on Ometepe are understandable, Debbie. I am sure there are many hoops to jump through to be declared a biosphere reserve, so I question what hoops, if any, must the canal project authorities jump through to reverse it. As a lorax, you are doing well voicing your concerns. Keep it up!

    • Lynne, if this comes to pass, I’m not sure how to fight against something so monstrous. I’ve researched the water laws of Nicaragua and how UNESCO chooses biosphere reserves. I just read in the newspaper than the Nicaraguan representative for UNESCO died yesterday. I’ve researched endangered species and effects of dynamite in lakes. Independent geologists have been here to research the damage that the canal would cause to Lake Cocibolca, but no one is listening. I guess the waiting begins. My gut tells me it isn’t going to happen. I hope I’m right.

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