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Beyond the Big DitchPolitics, Ecology, and Infrastructure at the Panama Canal$
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Ashley Carse

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262028110

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262028110.001.0001

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12 (p.207) Weeds
Beyond the Big Ditch

Ashley Carse

The MIT Press

This chapter focuses on invasive water hyacinth in the Panama Canal. For a century, the plant has been controlled, but not eliminated because the canal’s locks and dams produce an environment conducive to its reproduction. By transforming rapid rivers into sluggish lake water, the creation of a lock canal produced hydroecologies ripe for invasion. As water hyacinth spread around the edge of Gatun Lake and across its feeder rivers, it changed the environment in a manner that became a social and political problem, limiting regional circulation and raising questions about uneven development. Water hyacinth is an indicator of how infrastructures are embedded in political ecologies, redistributing burdens and benefits across communities. The questions of infrastructure, ecology, and social responsibility around water hyacinth speak to long-running tensions at the heart of the canal project.

Keywords:   circulation, dams, Gatun Lake, hydroecology, infrastructure, invasive species, Panama Canal, political ecology, uneven development, water hyacinth

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