Koa Smith tucks into a long, sand-bottomed tube at Colorados, Nicaragua’s best-known beachbreak. The proposed canal would come out just south of this zone. “This project is a disaster from a surfing standpoint, as well as an ecological standpoint,” says Nik Strong-Cvetich of Save The Waves. Photo: Billy Watts

Parts of wave-rich southern zone could be threatened by $40-billion project

By Jake Howard

Published:August 5, 2014Views:4,514Comments:0Share This Article:

As Nicaragua continues to evolve as a world-class surf destination, its premier wave region may be threatened. Hong Kong-based development company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd. (HKND Group) has a planned and approved a canal route that would cut a 173-mile swath through the country. The proposed route, which would take approximately five years to construct, would begin at Punta Gorda on the Caribbean coast, run through Lake Nicaragua and come out near Brito on the Pacific coast.

To the north of Brito sits one of Nicaragua’s most wave-rich regions. Areas like Manzanillo, Gigante, Rancho Santana and Popoyo, which lies about 15 miles away, could all potentially be affected.

“This project is a disaster from a surfing standpoint, as well as an ecological standpoint,” says Nik Strong-Cvetich of Save The Waves. “The Nicaraguan coast holds some of the world’s highest biodiversity, and of course, some of the best waves. The proposed route will cut right between Playa Maderas and Playa Gigante, potentially endangering several amazing waves, and destroying critical marine and dry-forest habitat.”

But there is skepticism the project will get off the ground. The estimated cost is in the neighborhood of $40 billion, four times the annual GDP of Nicaragua.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” says JJ Yemma, who runs the Popoyo Surf Lodge. “But I do have a couple of ideas of how it could affect our area both positively and negatively. Positively it appears to be bringing solid infrastructure to our area even quicker. Better roads and the municipality of Tola really seem to be gearing to put a lot of people to work. Negatively, none of us want to think about dirty water or possibly more crime. And there are obviously all the environmental concerns.”

While one of the safest countries in Central America, Nicaragua ranks as the second poorest country in the Americas, only slightly better off than Haiti. In the last 30 years, the country has suffered from civil war, devastating earthquakes, and a ravaged infrastructure. For many Nicaraguans, construction of the canal is a chance to rebuild the country. But many surfers don’t necessarily see it that way.

“You have to understand, in Nicaragua, people are starting to see surfing as something much more than riding waves,” says Armando Segura, owner of surf tour operation NicaSurfing. “It’s not just a pastime for kids. We have a beautiful country and good waves, so people come down to see it. They surf, but they also travel through the country, see the lake, the volcano, the coffee fields in the mountains. They come here because it’s unspoiled and they miss that in their normal lives. It’s not like Costa Rica.”

“On top of grave environmental threats, this canal is a humanitarian issue,” adds Save The Wave Environmental and Program’s Director Nick Mucha. “It will uproot entire villages that are dependent upon the health of their surrounding natural resources for sustenance. Traditional fishing villages along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts will fall victim to this project as their fish stocks will surely be negatively impacted. The recent advances made in small-scale, sustainable surf tourism that provide income for local families will be reversed by this mega project as the waves and surfing experience of southern Nicaragua will be irreversibly altered.”


I would not be too surprised if this project comes to fruition. When it does, Nicaragua will be forever changed. This article is about the effect it will have on the surfing community and how surfers do not only come to surf. They come to see the volcanoes, lakes, Colonial towns, etc. They generate income for all of us in the tourism business. What do you think? Will the canal affect us positively or negatively?

Hey reader, watcha think?