JUIGALPA, Nicaragua, June 14 (UPI) -- Thousands rallied in Nicaragua in protest against a plan to build a canal linking together the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, according to reports.
The BBC reports an unconfirmed figure of 15,000 demonstrators who marched in opposition to the construction project by Chinese firm Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND).
Longer and deeper than the Panama Canal, the estimated $50 billion project would cut a waterway 172 miles across the Central American country. HKND said it needs 642 square miles of Nicaraguan territory to make room for the necessary roads, waterways, ports and free-trade zones, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Opponents of the project say it will displace 27,000 people and wreak havoc on the environment, while the Nicaraguan government, which granted HKND a 50-year concession to build and operate the canal, says it will bolster the nation's economy and create up to 50,000 jobs.
The Tico Times reports environmental and social groups met at the University of Costa Rica last week in preparation for a protest march in Juigalpa, Nicaragua, on Saturday, June 13. Organizers of the march indicated its purpose was to show outside investors there was widespread opposition to the project.
So far opponents have held nearly 50 demonstrations over the issue.
Construction of the canal began late last year with completion projected in 2019. The canal has a planned route through Lake Cocibolca, also known as Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America.
In March, researchers from 18 institutions in the United States and Central and South America expressed concern that the project could damage fragile ecosystems in the lake, which also serves as the main freshwater reservoir for Central America.