Neotropical rainforests under assault from infrastructure & mining

Everywhere you look across Central and South America, native ecosystems are being imperiled by an avalanche of new mining and infrastructure projects. 

Forests under assault in Panama  (photo by William Laurance)

Forests under assault in Panama (photo by William Laurance)

Consider just three examples:

- In Nicaragua, a massive interoceanic canal project threatens vast expanses of rainforest and other ecosystems.  It will imperil 4,000 square kilometers of forest and wetlands, slice across several key nature reserves, and cut through the MesoAmerican Biological Corridor.  This issue is so worrisome that the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, the world's leading scientific organization devoted to tropical research, issued a special resolution of concern.

- In Brazil, many protected areas are under assault from mining.  A paper just published in the leading journal Science shows that at least 20% of all Brazil´s strictly protected areas and indigenous reserves -- an area larger than the UK and Switzerland combined -- are under consideration for mining projects.  More than 44,000 square kilometers of Brazil's protected areas have been lost to mining and other developments since 2008.

- Across the Amazon basin and Andes, at least 150 major hydroelectric dams have been proposed or are under construction.  These projects will not only flood large expanses of forest but their associated road projects will imperil some of the basin's most remote and biologically important areas.  For instance, it is estimated that 12 dams proposed for the Tapajós River in Brazil would result in nearly 1 million hectares of additional forest loss by 2032.

Who is responsible for this tsunami of forest-destroying projects?  There is no single cause, but China's unquenchable thirst for natural resources, the aggressive Brazilian development bank BNDES, and ambitious regional development schemes such as IIRSA are all leading contributors.

No one wants to halt responsible economic development, but this is a feeding frenzy.  Unless scientists and conservationists have a louder voice, some of the world's most important environments could be lost forever.


Mega-canal project could devastate Nicaragua's ecology

It'd be like watching a slow-motion train wreck.  That's one's impression when reading about the plan to build a vast mega-canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans across Nicaragua.

Like the Panama Canal only bigger... (photo by William Laurance)

Like the Panama Canal only bigger... (photo by William Laurance)

A German ecologist who has long worked in Nicaragua, Axel Meyer, writes to ALERT with a copy of his recent commentary in Nature, highlighting the myriad risks of this proposed $40 billion project.

The project's risks, which would involve not just a 300 kilometer-long waterway but also major associated infrastructure including railroads and pipelines, are enormous.  Just as the Panama Canal and associated developments have cut a swathe of forest destruction across Panama, so too would the mega-canal carve up Nicaragua.

Among the project's likely impacts:

-the destruction of 400,000 square kilometers of rainforest and wetland

-major environmental impacts on Lake Nicaragua, which harbors many endemic fish species

-potentially major degradation of the MesoAmerican Biological Corridor, the vital ecological linkage between the Americas that runs directly across the canal's path

-large effects on several indigenous groups in Nicaragua

Deforestation driver... in the Panama Canal watershed, all but 15% of the original forest has vanished (photo by William Laurance)

Deforestation driver... in the Panama Canal watershed, all but 15% of the original forest has vanished (photo by William Laurance)

Astoundingly, the only environmental assessment that is planned will be commissioned by the Chinese corporation that's been awarded a 50-year concession to build and run the canal.

A coalition of local groups in Nicaragua, led by the president of the Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences, is raising serious concerns about the project. 

If they fail, expect to hear thunderous crashing sounds as the mega-project advances...