Despite Ortega’s statement, ERM’s press department denied that construction has started in Nicaragua. Instead, it tells Scientific American that work has begun on “improvements” to enable field studies, including cleanup and the construction of access routes. The preliminary work is classified as “modest” because it includes primarily the construction and improvement of access routes, the clearing of a corridor 50 meters wide and almost 24 kilometers long, and support facilities.
Scientists worldwide also have expressed doubts about the project. For example, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) wrote that the canal will affect “some 4,000 square kilometers of forest, coast and wetlands,” which include the system of wetlands of San Miguelito (protected area under The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, aka Ramsar Convention, which Nicaragua signed); the Cerro Silva Natural Reserve; the Río San Juan Biosphere Reserve, which contains seven protected areas, including the Los Guatuzos Wildlife Reserve, the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and the Solentiname Archipelago.
One of the major local critics of the project’s management has been the country’s academy of sciences. Vice Pres. Jorge Huete-Pérez, a biologist, published an editorial on the subject in Science magazine with other specialists. In an interview withScientific American, Huete-Pérez says the main concern of the scientific community is what could happen to the water of Lake Nicaragua. “In the future climate change will affect us, there will be long droughts and the lake is a reservoir,” he says. “Is it worth sacrificing a source of drinking water, which also serves agriculture and tourism?”