We contend that the benefits of the proposed Nicaragua Canal cannot justify the irreversible damage that it would cause to the environment (see A. Meyer and J. A. Huete-Pérez Nature 506, 287–289; 2014).
With the Panama Canal's widening due to be completed in the next month or so, the argument that the Nicaragua Canal could better accommodate large container ships is no longer valid. Such vessels are of marginal significance to trans-Pacific shipping anyway, owing to insufficient freight demand and port limitations. And as manufacturing bases shift from China to south and southeast Asia, more of Asia's outbound container ships use the Suez Canal to reach eastern US ports.
The Nicaragua Canal would be much longer than the Panama Canal, and so would probably incur higher fees for bulk carriers, tankers and other vessels. On routes that link North America with Asia, large vessels already tend to sail around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope to avoid canal fees.
The Nicaraguan government has also underestimated the safety risks. The country experiences frequent earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions — which led the United States to select Panama over Nicaragua for a transoceanic canal in the first place.