San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Wetlands commission corroborates damage at Nicaragua dredging site

A study published Tuesday by an international authority on wetlands protection confirmed Costa Rica’s concerns about the construction of an artificial canal at the Portillo Lagoon on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. A report by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands said deforestation of the area would affect wildlife living near the lagoon.

The conclusion of an analysis that took place at the end of November stated that 225 hectares of the 75,310 hectare protected refuge have been altered. Nicaraguan soldiers have cleared forest in the area in order to build a canal that would drain water from the Río San Juan into the isolated Portillo Lagoon as part of Nicaragua’s dredging project.

The Ramsar report concluded that “water quality, aquatic flora and fauna and residential and migratory birds will be most affected,” by the construction of the canal. Deforestation and a new canal would lead to sedimentation, the lagoon’s water quality would change and affect nearby wildlife.

The Ramsar Convention refers to an international treaty ratified in 1971 and designed to protect wetlands. Ramsar’s standing committee granted the Portillo Lagoon area the designation of “Wetland of International Importance” in 1996.

The Ramsar analysis recommended completing “rigorous environmental impact studies” before work continues at the Portillo Lagoon and stated that “deforestation must be avoided.” It also recommended installing a permanent monitoring system in order to measure and maintain the “ecological characteristics” of the wetland.

Costa Rica’s Foreign Ministry has requested environmental viability studies from Nicaragua that demonstrate permission to build the canal, but so far has not received any documents.

Costa Rica also has filed a formal complaint against Nicaragua with the International Court of Justice for environmental damage, a case that will be heard next Tuesday.

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