“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.
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 As of August 2013, 13 biosphere reserve sites have been withdrawn from the UNESCO register.
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.
Ometepe 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.
I 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?