Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 25, Issue 13, pp 2821–2825 | Cite as

Biodiversity beyond trees: Panama’s Canal provides limited conservation lessons for Nicaragua

  • Luis Fernando De León
  • Omar R. Lopez


Megaprojects pose a major global environmental challenge. For instance, the forthcoming construction of the Nicaraguan Canal has generated controversy regarding its social and environmental consequences. To some, it will represent an unparalleled environmental catastrophe; to others, it will lead to net environmental and social benefits. In both cases, the Panama Canal emerges as an analogy to inform the environmental and social fate of Nicaragua. In our view, this comparison is incomplete and does not accurately represent the social and environmental realities of the two countries, and therefore, it might be of limited use for predicting the future of Nicaragua. Our analysis—based on evidence from the literature—revealed three emerging themes. First, our current understanding of the long-term environmental consequences of the two Canals in Central America is rather limited, even after 100 years of experience in Panama. Second, the historical, environmental and political differences between the two countries make the Panama Canal a poor predictor for the environmental and social fate of Nicaragua. Finally, previous assessments of the consequences of both megaprojects might be biased by a focus on forest conservation alone. This suggests that the apparent environmental and social benefits provided by such megaprojects might be more marginal than expected. This calls for a deeper analysis of costs and benefits of the construction and management of the two Canals in the Central American region, and their impacts on the natural world. These uncertainties might be a common consequence of many large-scale megaprojects around the world.


Biodiversity Conservation Environmental benefits Nicaragua Canal Panama Canal 



We thank Diana Sharpe and Sally Stewart for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. LFD is supported by the Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (SENACYT; Grant No. ITE12-002). Both LFD and ORL are supported by the Sistema Nacional de Investigación (SNI, Panama).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centro de Biodiversidad y Descubrimiento de DrogasInstituto de Investigaciones Científicas y Servicios de Alta Tecnología (INDICASAT-AIP)PanamáRepública de Panamá
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of Massachusetts BostonBostonUSA
  3. 3.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaRepublic of Panama

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