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Indybay Feature
Tue Dec 17 2013 (Updated 12/19/13)
Widened Panama Canal Threatens Environment and Public Health
North Atlantic Right Whale May Be Just One of the Casualties of Harbor Expansions
The Obama administration’s push to modernize U.S. ports to accommodate huge new ships that can pass through the widened Panama Canal worries environmentalists who believe U.S. coastlines will be subjected to enormous damage and coastal residents will face increased health risks. For marine life already threatened by shipping traffic, like the majestic right whale, the odds are even tougher.

The right whales were already hunted to near extinction when they received international protection in the mid-twentieth century, and only about 400 of the North Atlantic species remain. Each winter the whales migrate south to critical habitat along the coastline from Savannah, Ga., to Jacksonville, Fla., to give birth they go through the delicate process of separating children from their mothers, known as calving. Today, the biggest threats to the dark gray whales are ships that can strike them and fishing gear in which they can become entangled.

In the frenzy among cities to deepen harbors, expand railways and improve roads for truck traffic in order to be one of the ports to attract mega ships once the Panama Canal is enlarged in 2015, the North Atlantic right whale may be just one of the casualties.

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