Description and Details

In 2011, the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter and cur­rent Pres­i­dent of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan, announced the Istan­bul Canal project to alle­vi­ate the traf­fic pres­sure of the Bospho­rus Canal, reduce the poten­tial risks of ships loaded with dan­ger­ous mate­ri­als, and pro­mote the country’s eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment. Ships can pay fees to the Istan­bul Canal to jump the queue in the Bospho­rus Canal, where mer­chant ships can pass freely but have to wait in line. The esti­mat­ed cost is $25 bil­lion, with $10 bil­lion for build­ing bridges on both sides and $15 bil­lion for build­ing the canal.

The canal will be con­struct­ed in the west­ern part of Istan­bul and will link the Mar­mara Sea to the Black Sea. It will have a length of 45 km, a width vary­ing from 400 to 1,000 m, and a depth of up to 25 m.  Six bridges will be con­struct­ed to con­nect the canal by land with the out­skirts of the Euro­pean side of Istan­bul. Around 160 ships and tankers are expect­ed to cross the canal annually. 

The rea­sons for build­ing the Istan­bul Canal are relat­ed to Turkey’s eco­nom­ic growth. Though Bospho­rus Canal is locat­ed in Turkey, the pas­sage fee doesn’t boost the country’s econ­o­my. The Mon­treux Con­ven­tion signed in 1936 pri­or­i­tized “free­dom to pass through the Straits” in oper­a­tion prin­ci­ples. It guar­an­tees “com­plete free­dom” of pas­sage for all civil­ian ves­sels in times of peace. If Turkey can charge the car­go in Istan­bul Canal, the prof­it can be used to cre­ate bet­ter liv­ing con­di­tions for cit­i­zens. On the Black Sea side, the Istan­bul Canal can con­nect with a new $10 bil­lion air­port and a new high­way. The three inter­re­lat­ed projects feed and sup­port each oth­er, fur­ther sup­port­ing Turkey’s economy. 

How­ev­er, Rus­sia oppos­es the project plan firm­ly, in con­sid­er­a­tion of their nation­al secu­ri­ty. Erdo­gan may use the Istan­bul Canal to rene­go­ti­ate or with­draw from the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion. For Rus­sia, Mon­treux is a way to keep West­ern naval ships out of the Black Sea. If the canal allows ene­my navy pas­sage or if the Mon­treux Con­ven­tion is amend­ed, Rus­sia will face poten­tial threats.

Oth­er than polit­i­cal aspects, envi­ron­men­tal impact places the Istan­bul Canal under crit­i­cism. The canal will be dug in a wood­ed area and will elim­i­nate Lake Durusu. Lake Durusu is one of Turkey’s largest bod­ies of fresh­wa­ter and pro­vides 40% of Istan­bul’s drink­ing water. Sea water intru­sion from dig­ging the canal may destroy the fresh­wa­ter source and cause a water short­age in Turkey. Fur­ther, the project may desta­bi­lize the marine envi­ron­ment, upset­ting the nat­ur­al equi­lib­ri­um of cur­rents and counter cur­rents. There are two flows in Bosporus, with the bot­tom flow going north being denser than the sur­face flow com­ing south because the Mar­mara Sea is salti­er than the Black Sea. The con­struc­tion of the Istan­bul Canal may undo the flow equi­lib­ri­um. Turkey used to dis­charge treat­ed water at the loca­tion where Bospho­rus meets the Mar­mara Sea, so the water is car­ried by under­cur­rent to the north. The canal will chal­lenge the waste­water treat­ment sys­tem and may suck pol­lut­ed water from the Black Sea to Lake Durusu and cause pol­lu­tion to the drink­ing water source.

The land retrieval aspect of the Istan­bul Canal is also con­cern­ing. Land in Turkey is a high­ly sought-after com­mod­i­ty, and 30% of the canal route is pri­vate­ly owned. With Turkey’s pop­u­la­tion grow­ing rapid­ly from around 3 mil­lion peo­ple in 1980 to more than 15 mil­lion today, land for future growth is under high con­sid­er­a­tion. Con­struct­ing the canal will result in 350 hectares of defor­esta­tion, and the canal will run through dis­tricts home to more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple. The esti­mat­ed com­ple­tion date is 2027. 

CEE sub­jects: Con­struc­tion Engi­neer­ing and Man­age­ment, Envi­ron­men­tal Engi­neer­ing, Geot­ech­ni­cal Engi­neer­ing, Hydraulics and Hydro­log­i­cal Engi­neer­ing, Water Qual­i­ty and Health, Earth Sys­tems, Envi­ron­men­tal Flu­id Dynamics

Discussion Questions

  • Should the canal be built? How can the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment resolve prob­lems like diplo­mat­ic issues with Rus­sia, envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems, and land conflicts?
  • What are oth­er advan­tages or dis­ad­van­tages of the canal being built?
  • What sus­tain­able aspects could be includ­ed in the design of the canal to lim­it its impacts on the envi­ron­ment or ensure its use remains adap­tive for future generations?