over the children of the poor all the top stores on our website, al jazeera.com commercial traffic, this canal is considered a wonder of the engineering world. >> okay, vamos. >> nicaraguans pacific coast line, still untouched by development. but perhaps not for long. it could soon feature another grand canal, one designed to accommodate the largest ships on the planet. but even before ground is
broken, this canal is filled with controversy. this is "techknow". a show about innovations that can change lives. >> the science of fighting a wildfire. >> we're going to explore the intersection of hardware and humanity, but we're doing it in a unique way. this is a show about science... >> oh! >> oh my god! >> by scientists. now techknow investigates nicaragua's great divide. >> hey guys welcome to techknow i'm phil torres joined by lindsay moran and marita davison. and today we're talking about a story that is dividing the country of nicaragua and it has environmental groups on alert around the world, and of course we are talking about this proposed canal that would go right through the country and it
could be huge. >> and phil, this canal project, along with all of the additional development involved with it, would cut through some of the most environmentally sensitive regions of the country. >> and lindsay, i understand behind this project is a chinese national? >> that's right, a very wealthy and influential business man, but someone who has no experience with infrastructure, engineering, the environment, or latin america. in fact there's a lot of speculation that the chinese government might be covertly backing the plan. >> techknow decided to take a closer look at the proposed canal so we decided to go to nicaragua. turns out, it wasn't as easy as we thought it would be. >> our trip begins with a warning from airport security. no pictures allowed. we are leaving the comfort of panama. our assignment, an up close view a proposed canal that would cut clear across nicaragua and would
rival neighboring panama's locks. nicaragua's canal would be more than 3 times longer than panama's. there are faster ways to nicaragua, but our route would be the safest, taking us from panama to el salvador, then costa rica. from there, we would attempt to cross the border into nicaragua by car. in the back seat of the pickup we looked and acted like tourists. >> yay mon. >> word is journalists aren't welcome in nicaragua. we're traveling light. going with just the basics-- anything that would make us out to be profession journalists -- would have to stay behind. the road to nicaragua cuts through the northern section of costa rica. as the sun sets we reached the town of la cruz. this is the easy part. costa rica's side of the border.
the nicaraguan side is a different story. first, we submit papers for what they call a medical check. it isn't very thorough. two guys behind a desk. i'm asked a few questions and given a small square in return with a warning. >> do not lose your ticket. >> then it's onto our final stop. this is the customs building. the going is slow, no computers here, everything is done long- hand. >> how did it go- everything good? >> yeah. >> soon we are back in the truck and off into the nicaraguan night. (cheering / applause). >> this is the small seaside town of san juan del sol.
>> good morning. >> it is the quintessential summertime hang-out in nicaragua. it might be my favorite place on the planet- or at least one of them. it's easy to fall in love with nicaragua. it is the second poorest nation in the hemisphere, only haiti is worse off, poverty is apparent, but still this place is awesome. rural life constantly crosses paths with modern. this is the town of gigante, a village of fishermen like daniel rodriguez who repairs his net the way his father taught him. >> aqui? >> si!!
>> life is simple, sustained by the sea. >> red snapper? >> si. >> e sena. >> si. >> but this way of life might soon become a thing of the past. gigante could become the pacific port entrance to the new nicaraguan canal. the canal is the pet project of nicaraguan president daniel ortega, seen here with wang jing, a little-known chinese telecom billionaire, promising to put up 50 billion dollars to turn a long-held dream into reality. the route, announced in 2013 by wang jing's h-k-n-d group-- and posted on their website, cuts through some of the most environmentally sensitive areas in central america, including lake nicaragua. many in the scientific and legal communities are concerned.
>> so this is the map of the company where it indicates all of the area of the canal, all of this is the area that is going to be flood. >> monica lopez baltodano is the director of a popolna, a group fighting the canal. like many who oppose the plan she speaks out at her own risk. >> we are worried along with scientists in the country but internationally that the canal is going to be the end of our main water resource. we have a huge task because the government actually has control over most of nicaraguan media, i mean tv and radio. >> the only way to see what's really at stake here is to get wet. >> listo? listo. >> so right now we're leaving gigante beach, and right around
the corner from it is where the canal is gonna start. so what we see out here may change drastically. >> the day's windy and the seas are rough. >> so right now we're getting hammered by the wind and the waves, but i wanted to show you guys. this is it. this is the proposed entrance and exit on the pacific side for the nicaragua canal. there's a natural break in the rock formations here so it's relatively flat but there's a lot of good forest in there -- no infrastructure so they're going to have to do a lot of work to break through that. >> many fear the canal would destroy this -- the raw beauty of the country's coastline. as we make our way inland, we
see there is much more at stake. >> so how close are we to the route of the canal? >> we are practically on it. >> so the canal would go right through here? >> yeah, because it's the lowest point in the landscape. >> dr. jean -michel maes is one of nicaragua's leading scientists. he was asked to help document this area of the canal route for the canal's environmental impact report. and like me, he is an entomologist. we have a bit of history together. >> 15 years ago when i was a kid i wanted to come here and collect some butterflies and i asked around who can help me with that. and it was you. >> i think what is difficult is seeing all the country being destroyed. >> so right now we're looking at the brito river. this thing is meandering through here. it's beautiful here but that might change. >> if they make the canal that will change.
they will make it straight, they will not go meandering with the ships. >> as we made our way down the road, our guides tell us to hide our cameras. the go pro on the front of our vehicle keeps rolling. just down the river stands a nicaraguan army post. a single soldier standing guard. enough to send a message. >> knowing nicaragua's history i worry that this situation and that the authoritarian way the government is pushing for the project, it's going to end up in a new confrontation no one wants to see. >> coming up, we battle the elements on lake nicaragua to prove a point. >> and as it stands now, that is much too shallow for any of those giant supertankers. >> we want to hear what you think about these stories. join the conversation by following us on twitter and at aljazeera.com/techknow.
>> it is evening along the western coast of nicaragua. we're here on a mission: to get an up-close view of the land that could be impacted by the massive canal that could come to this country. >> so one of the many incredible things about nicaragua, we were just driving down the road and right now we're looking at about 12 howler monkeys... it's incredible.
it's... too amazing. >> the monkeys are just some of the roadside attractions here. nicaragua is an amazing country full of diverse wildlife. that's why building a canal here is so controversial, especially when it comes to lake nicaragua, or as the locals refer to it, lake cocibolca. >> lake cocibolca is actually the jewel of the crown for this country. because no other body of water has the water in quality and quantity of this lake. >> professor salvador montenagro-guillen is one of nicaragua's leading scientists. he was once the head of the center for research in water resources of nicaragua. until he spoke out against the canal. >> so critics like yourself weren't welcomed. >> i am not against the initiative my criticism is how the design has been imposed.
>> we would hear that often in nicaragua. the issue with the lake is complex. people who speak out do so at their own risk. we traveled to the lakefront village of cardenas to see if we could get some answers. cardenas is poor. on this day the entire village had no power. we met a mother and her young son who invited us into their small flat. (speaking spanish). >> so basically she's saying they don't have power right now, they don't even have water. she has to go to a well down the street to get water. so it seems kind of crazy... $50 billion dollar project to make a canal out there in the water when right here they could use some basic help. >> like most of the people in this village margarite hasn't heard much about the canal plan,
but she's not against it. everyone is looking for ways out of the poverty here. they have been told a canal would provide a significant economic boost to the economy. monica lopez- baltodano is a lawyer trying to organize communities living along the proposed canal route. >> if not the canal then what do you think is the fix here? >> why don't we invest in an irrigation system? they sell people dreams that a huge investment like this is going to change completely the economical system in nicaragua and the poverty in nicaragua because it's completely unreal. it doesn't work that way. my legal opinion is that the canal law... it's against the constitution. >> while the legal battle continues, a group of scientists are collecting data to provide their own arguments against the canal. one is dr katherine vammen, a microbiologist. she's a research scientist at the university of central america.
but that's her new job. before, she worked closely with dr. salvador montenagro. >> so why the change in jobs? >> well, i was slowly forced out. >> why do you think you were really forced out? >> because of the canal issue. >> you are a scientist. you look at what the data presents. you do your analysis. >> exactly. >> yet if they don't agree with it all of a sudden you had to leave. >> vammen wanted to show us why she opposes the canal here. there is no better way to understand lake nicaragua, than this. this isn't exactly what we planned. the waves and wind are brutal. soon we'd even lose one of our cameras. >> so we're here in the middle of lake nicaragua and one of the national newspapers took something like this into the lake. this is a depth finder what they did is went up and down the proposed canal route what they found, it's shallow.
much too shallow for any of those giant supertankers. >> this documentary from the independent nicaraguan newspaper confidential, followed the proposed route through the lake, taking depth measurements all along the suggested path. super tankers would require a depth of 30 meters, or 98 feet. most of the lake just isn't that deep. >> that means they would have to dig out 20 meters almost. how are they going to get these sediments out? where are they going to put it? what does that mean for the lake? there needs to be more studies done. >> and judging by the conditions we saw, dredging would be a nightmare, something dr. montenagro showed us on his computer. >> that's the wind going across the canal. yes? >> yeah. >> so the canal is bad for the lake, the lake is bad for the canal? >> very bad.
>> so why do you think they want to do this? >> uh... i don't have the answer why they want to do it. >> from the shoreline of lake nicaragua we could make out the silhouette of the lake's two volcanoes. seismologists are also concerned about earthquakes. the region is an active zone. engineering a canal would have to take earth movements into account. >> so these are the 3 most important fault zones and the canal is hitting 2 of them... 2 of the 3? >> yes. >> the people of cardenas live a simple life. a canal would dramatically change all that, in more ways than just their water supply. coming up: who is wang jing? the man behind the canal project goes center stage.
>> the date is july 7, 2014. on stage is the chinese billionaire behind the ambitious nicaraguan canal project. he speaks through an interpreter, but his message is clear. this video- posted on you tube - shows what the canal will look like -- with ships entering from the pacific coast, making their way into the brito locks. these locks are similar to the ones techknow saw under
construction in panama's new canal locks, complete with basins to capture and conserve water. techknow has come to nicaragua to learn more about the plan. we visited the same area portrayed in the animation. there's plenty of politics. our focus is the science. >> it is right here where i'm standing the proposed nicaragua canal would begin. to the engineers constructing it most importantly it's really low easy to get to. the only issue for biologists is the forest right next to it is incredibly unique. >> so these mangroves protect the coast. >> these mangroves fix it, so... exactly. the mangrove fix all the sand system... provide with some kind of soil, that's not only sand, it's a mix so you have also soil... so the other kind of forest can
live here. >> putting at risk all of our most valuable resources, affecting 119,000 people just to get 25,000 jobs for a small period of time it's doesn't make any sense at all. i worry that we are putting all of our future at risk by destroying nicaragua's lake. >> like many here, lawyer monica lopez baltodano, does not trust the government. information is difficult to come by. but the stakes are high. many scientists view this as a potential environmental disaster. in march 2015 a special panel at florida international university issued this report criticizing h-k-n-d's plan for lack of sufficient study. in particular they said, quote: "the canal, which requires removal of about 1.2 billion tons of sediment, poses a
severe threat to water quality and unique aquatic life". fifteen scientists were part of the study. one was the smithsonian's dr. stanley heckadon-moreno. we spoke to him in panama outside his marine research center. >> so it seems like they don't quite have enough information on the environment they don't quite have enough information on the people. >> at the moment, yes... yeah. >> but yet the plan is to go forward. >> yes, they need more time... really that was the message we tried to give on this panel. this outside group of panel of experts. that they have to do more water hydrological assessments. you gonna have to make life and death decisions based on 5 years of data. >> in september 2015, the hknd group posted this environmental impact report on its website. the report concludes the canal as designed, quote, "would be safe and lake nicaragua adequately protected". it calls for a series of studies
to be completed before construction such as topography, geotechnical, seismic risk assessment, sediment and a salinity study. and it moves the western entrance to the canal's south by 200 meters. telamarco talavera, the nicaraguan in charge of the canal authority sat down with a reporter from al jazeera's digital team at aj+. >> nicaragua is facing a big decision. things do need to change here. when we interviewed daniel, the fisherman from gigante, i asked him to spell his name. i soon realized, he wasn't able to. >> hey... hey. >> okay. gracias. >> yet the canal won't change all that. at least not right away.
>> so daniel here is a little torn because the canal could provide jobs, but also all these people are fisherman and he knows that there's going to be an impact because of the canal and a whole lot of ships. so why do the deal if the nicaraguan people aren't going to benefit, why do it? >> well, first of all there is some political class in nicaragua that see in the canal the possibility to get rich in a level that they would never be able to do it without this sort of agreement. >> nicaragua is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. what i saw here was amazing. i had coffee above the clouds, and the techknow crew and i took pictures while gazing at the billions of stars of the milky way. politics is one thing. putting the environment at risk is another. many say this country is poor, but sunsets like this can't be bought -- no matter what the price.
>> now lindsay when it comes to geopolitics and economic power plays, you are the techknow correspondent for the job. what does your gut tell you is going on here? >> you know we have to ask ourselves what is really the need for a canal through nicaragua? we've got the panama canal which is being widened and so from an intelligence perspective, it even begs the question, could this potentially be a chinese false flag operation, a means to get infrastructure and influence into the western hemisphere and really there is no intention of actually building the canal. >> so to me this is a classic example of a poor country like nicaragua, second poorest in the americas facing a trade off between economic development and protection of natural resources. it's not an easy thing. >> you know when you're there it is so obvious that they need some economic change. i have visited nicaragua 15 years ago to see my family there and while it's kind of nice to
see that things haven't changed so it still kind of holds onto it's traditions, it also means there hasn't been a lot of progress in the country, so they need something, it just seems like the canal is probably not it. that's it for today. we are going to keep our eye on this story. be sure to check us out next time here on techknow. >> dive deep into these stories and go behind the scenes at aljazeera.com/techknow. follow our expert contributors on twitter, facebook, instagram, google+ and more.