The Panama Canal built in 1914, will find itself widened for the first time when it celebrates its centennial anniversary in 2014.
The Panamanian congress made a decision to widen the canal by 42 feet, to give it an overall width of about 150 feet. The expansion project will cost around $5.2 billion and after completion, will allow ships, capable of carrying a load of 10,000 containers, which is more than double the canal’s capacity today.
The massive expansion plan includes the introduction of huge locks on both ends of the waterway, more new channels being dug out and also a widening of the canal which bisects the hilly Continental Divide.
What concerns the environmentalists is, that the expansion plan is carried out without a complete Environmental Impact Study, which is mandatory as per the Panamanian law.
Also fears the Panamanians, that, they would soon face water scarcity, despite being in one of the wettest spots of the globe. The country also known for its rich species of flora and fauna might also face the threat of deforestation.
The canal which allows 5% of the global cargo through it, requires a lot of fresh water to be pumped, in order to raise and lower the ships at the crossing. The water is normally supplied from Panama Canal Watershed, which is also the only source of freshwater supplier to Panama.
Increasing the canal width would only mean more supply of fresh water for traffic movement across the canal, which will eventually drain the watershed and also disrupt the ocean salination levels.
Also, problems of canal acting as a bridge between oceans, might cause marine species to migrate from one ocean to the other. Studies revealed that, about eight different species have drifted across the Continental Divide.
Environmentalists fear that such migrations between varied habitats can lead to unpredictable events in an otherwise finely balanced way of life.
So far the expansion work has not started and talks are being made about the environmental threats. Changing nature has had its impact on mankind and this project also pose the major threat of global warming.