Published on Sep 18, 2016
Panama is one of Latin America’s most diverse landscapes, with riches and luxury living alongside drastic poverty. The Panama Canal, however, is a point of pride for many – a feat that is unparalleled in the world of waterway engineering.
Designed by the French and finished by the Americans a century ago, it is one of the largest public construction projects in US history. The canal was built to ease the movement of water vessels, such as marine and cargo ships, between two of the world’s largest bodies of water – the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Every day, more than 40 ships pass through the canal. But despite increasing cargo tonnage, Panama needed to expand the canal to accommodate a new generation of container ships, the so-called neo-Panamax, which are too big for the old canal locks.
To cater to this larger transit tonnage and global shipping demands, Panama decided to take its two-lane canal and add a new third lane.
The new canal designs are set to improve upon the current functionality, such as with the new gates that slide across the channel chambers as opposed to the traditional ‘open and shut’ gates. Reinvented basins are also a new feature, helping move ships across the canal chambers using water-saving methods.
The Panama Canal expansion project is projected to double the capacity of the canal and hence considered a major boon for ports and the Panamanian government.
However, the economic promise of the canal runs alongside environmental concerns. How will the canal’s expansion affect Panama’s ecosystem?
TechKnow travelled to Panama to look at the engineering behind the massive expansion project and to hear from biologists and community leaders about Panama’s changing ecosystem.