Globalization gone mad: Stop the Nicaragua Canal!

A container ship plowing through the rainforest The globalization juggernaut vs. the rainforest (© Glyn Lowe & Stéphane Bidouze / Montage: Rettet den Regenwald)
217,034 supporters

End of campaign: May 19, 2020

Nicaragua is planning a new canal for container ships and oil tankers. While the project is economically important for China – the apparent driving force behind the canal – it would mean clear-cutting rainforests, mass resettlement and destroying Lake Nicaragua’s ecosystem. Please speak out against this looming environmental disaster.

Call to action

To: the government of Nicaragua

“Do not sacrifice Nicaragua’s environment and the welfare of its people for a new canal for oil tankers and container ships.”

Read letter

While President Daniel Ortega is touting the Canal de Nicaragua as the dawn of a new era, thousands of ordinary citizens are taking to the streets and demanding that the project be stopped. 280 km long, up to 520 meters wide and almost 30 meters deep – the planned waterway between the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea would be far larger than the Panama Canal. With the restricted infrastructure zones on either side of the waterway, the project would leave a 20-km wide swathe of destruction from coast to coast.

The impact on Nicaraguans and their environment would be profound: at least 100,000 people face forced resettlement. 400,000 hectares of rainforest – the habitat of jaguars, tapirs and spider monkeys – would be cleared.

A 90-km channel would be dredged through Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater reservoir in Central America, to accommodate oil tankers and container giants – and to the detriment of the unique wildlife of the lake, which includes critically endangered sawfish and bull sharks.

“Not the slightest precondition for this project has been fulfilled,” explains Monica López, attorney for environmental law, “Feasibility studies, environmental-impact reports, financing plans, earnings outlooks – nothing of the sort has been forthcoming.”

The Nicaraguan government nevertheless awarded a 50-year concession for the construction and operation of the canal to the Chinese businessman Wang Jing, without a bidding process or public debate. It is completely unclear how his company, Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND), will raise the estimated $50 billion for the construction. The only thing that is certain at this point is the importance of the canal for China’s economy.

Please speak out against this disaster in the making and sign our petition to the Nicaraguan government.


The planned canal route runs from Brito, a fishing village on the Pacific, through the middle of nearby Lake Nicaragua (Lago Cocibolca) and across the rainforests in the east of the country – including the Cerro Silva Natural Reserve – to Punta Gorda on the Caribbean Sea. Nearby protected areas such as the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve and the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve are also threatened by the canal project.

The route through Lake Nicaragua, which has an average depth of only ten meters, would involve dredging a channel and displacing millions of tons of sludge that would have to be deposited elsewhere in the lake or on land.

Not only the construction work, but also the operation of the canal would endanger the largest drinking water reservoir in Central America. Potential hazards include salt infiltration and oil from the ships, as well as the introduction of invasive plant and animal species that would have unforeseeable consequences for the lake’s ecosystem.

To have enough water for the lock systems, weirs would be put in place on the Rio San Juan, the natural outflow of Lake Nicaragua. The river, which forms the border with neighboring Costa Rica, passes through wetlands protected under the Ramsar Convention and flows into the Caribbean Sea.

To date, no less than 30 lawsuits have been filed against the government decision by indigenous groups alone. Their complaints focus on the lack of prior consultation with regard to the construction project.

The new Nicaraguan waterway is intended to compete with the Panama Canal, which until recently was under United States control and is currently undergoing a multibillion-dollar expansion to allow more and larger ships to pass.

Many therefore suspect that the Chinese government is behind the canal project in Nicaragua, as it would help secure Chinese access to Latin American natural resources, including Venezuela’s vast oil reserves and Brazil’s iron ore and bauxite deposits. The concession for the canal also grants extensive land use rights. The operating company Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND) was given a 10-km wide belt of land on either side of the canal to accommodate roads and infrastructure. HKND was also given permission to exploit any natural resources it found and was exempted from liability for the economic and environmental impact of its activities in that area.

- Nature Magazine, February 19, 2014: Conservation: Nicaragua Canal could wreak environmental ruin

- BBC, July 8, 2014: Nicaragua canal route: Atlantic-Pacific link unveiled



To: the government of Nicaragua

Dear President Ortega, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am writing to express my concern about your planned canal construction project, which would not only violate the Nicaraguan constitution and numerous national laws, but also at least ten international environmental agreements signed by Nicaragua.

Its route would impact seven protected areas and would involve destroying 193,000 to 400,000 hectares of rainforest and other natural treasures. The canal threatens your country’s water systems and biodiversity. It would divide Nicaragua into two halves and require the resettlement of thousands.

Lake Nicaragua – the largest freshwater reservoir in Central America – would be impacted by oil pollution, salt infiltration, turbidity and invasive plant and animal species. Scientists warn that the consequences would be disastrous.

Nicaraguan organizations also point out natural threats that your government has not taken into consideration, such as the high risk of earthquakes, hurricanes and droughts.

The construction of the canal is already impacting the rights of Nicaraguans – in particular its indigenous peoples – who have suffered police brutality, intimidation by the military and the incarceration of protesters.

Such violations of human rights are considered unacceptable by the international community. Furthermore, such investment projects must be regarded as irresponsible without prior, thorough environmental impact assessments.

We call on your government to declare the canal project unviable and cancel it without delay.


The Spanish version of the letter can be found here: