Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca or Granada (Spanish: Lago de Nicaragua, Lago Cocibolca, Mar Dulce, Gran Lago, Gran Lago Dulce, or Lago de Granada) is a vast freshwater lake in Nicaragua of tectonic origin. With an area of 8,264 km2 (3,191 sq mi), it is the largest lake in Central America, the 19th largest lake in the world (by area) and the 9th largest in the Americas. It is slightly smaller than Lake Titicaca. With an elevation of 32.7 metres (107 ft) above sea level, the lake reaches a depth of 26 metres (85 ft). It is intermittently joined by the Tipitapa River to Lake Managua.
The lake drains to the Caribbean Sea via the San Juan River, historically making the lakeside city of Granada, Nicaragua, an Atlantic port although it is closer to the Pacific. The lake has a history of Caribbean pirates who assaulted nearby Granada on three occasions. Despite draining into the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific Ocean is near enough to be seen from the mountains of Ometepe (an island in the lake).
Before construction of the Panama Canal, a stagecoach line owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit Company connected the lake with the Pacific across the low hills of the narrow Isthmus of Rivas. Plans were made to take advantage of this route to build an interoceanic canal, the Nicaragua Canal, but the Panama Canal was built instead. In order to quell competition with the Panama Canal, the U.S. secured all rights to a canal along this route in the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty of 1916. However, since this treaty was mutually rescinded by the United States and Nicaragua in 1970, the idea of another canal in Nicaragua still periodically resurfaces. Ecocanal is one of these projects.
Lake Nicaragua, despite being a freshwater lake, has sawfish, tarpon, and sharks. Initially, scientists thought the sharks in the lake belonged to an endemic species, the Lake Nicaragua Shark (Carcharhinus nicaraguensis). In 1961, following comparisons of specimens, the Lake Nicaragua Shark was synonymized with the widespread Bull shark (C. leucas), a species also known for entering freshwater elsewhere around the world. It had been presumed that the sharks were trapped within the lake, but this was found to be incorrect in the late 1960s, when it was discovered that they were able to jump along the rapids of the San Juan River (which connects Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean Sea), almost like salmon. As evidence of these movements, bull sharks tagged inside the lake have later been caught in the open ocean (and vice versa), with some taking as little as 7-11 days to complete the journey. Numerous other species of fish live in the lake, including at least 16 species of endemic cichlids. A non-native cichlid, a Tilapia, is used widely in aquaculture within the lake. Owing to the large amount of waste they produce, and the risk of introducing diseases to which the native fish species have no resistance, they are potentially a serious threat to the lake's ecosystem.
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