On August 15th, 1914 the MV Anconbecame the first ship to transit the newly opened Panama Canal. It changed the world. The Canal opened up shipping to the world in a way that is comparable to nothing else. It’s elegant combination of locks and atmospheric pressure seemed to go against the laws of gravity and logical reason to lift ships weighing thousands of tons uphill in order to cross from the Pacific Ocean directly to the Caribbean Sea. Since then, the Panama Canal has remained an essential passage. Its usage has steadily grown and has picked up since Panama acquired it from the US in 1999. Perhaps inevitably, the Canal began to bump up against its full capacity. Ship size has grown, with some becoming too large to transit the canal, and as more goods need to go to more places around the world, the demand on the Canal became too much. It was time to expand it.
University of Virginia professor Ed Berger is teaching a class on the Short Term 2012 Semester at Sea voyage about the Panama Canal, amusingly titled “The Big Ditch”. The expansion of the Canal is a large part of his course, which is appropriate considering the scope of the expansion project. The amount of dirt being moved and people involved is almost unfathomable. Luckily, and impossibly in any other class setting, the Short Term 2012 voyage ported in Panama City–just a 20 minute drive away from the site of the expansion project–and actually transited the Canal on its way to Costa Rica. It was a perfect opportunity to take students into the field to see with their own eyes how that big ditch they’ve been reading about in class is getting bigger and deeper. The video above, by staff videographer Levi Wells, takes you into the Panama Canal with Ed Berger and his students. – John Vieira