Expert opinion: Illegal Gold Mining in the Amazon
The damage can be seen in satellite images. Says Astrid Aguilar, FZS Gold Mining and Conservation Coordinator. But global solutions are needed.
Hi Astrid, what does your job involve?
How much damage is illegal gold mining causing the Amazon?
A recent study has estimated that almost 100,000 hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest has been lost in one region of Peru because of gold mining. As well, an article in O globo mentioned that small-scale gold miners were responsible of the loss of 10,500 hectares of forest in Brazil last year. The damage caused by the mining, even though it was small-scale, was large enough to be seen in satellite images.
But deforestation is not the only impact of illegal gold mining. There is also invisible but highly toxic damage caused by mercury during the gold amalgamation process. For example, unhealthy amounts of mercury in fish tissue has been found, and since local indigenous and non-indigenous communities rely on fish as their main protein source, mercury has also made its way into their bodies revealing itself in their hair and blood. This a public health concern. Not only that but miners are also dredging rivers to access the gold, changing watercourses and causing negative impacts to the amount and diversity of fish.
Why is illegal gold mining an attractive option to so many people?
How is the illegally extracted gold reaching the market?
The damage caused by the mining, even though it was small-scale, was large enough to be seen in satellite images." Astrid Aguilar
Why is it so difficult to stop or minimize these illegal mining activities?
Gold prices are very attractive to existing illegal miners in the Amazon, and a huge temptation for those who need an income. Also, law enforcement is a costly and complex matter considering the Amazon is vast with many areas that are not easily accessible by law enforcement but with perfect hiding places for miners.
A well-known example of how difficult it is to stop illegal gold mining occurred in March 2019 when the Peruvian government started a military operation called Operación Mercurio in a major hub for illegal mining activities called La Pampa in Madre de Dios. This makeshift “camp” was occupying part of the Tambopata National Reserve, it was a place where many crimes were rampant. The military operation is struggling to succeed as miners have adapted, and are now either working at night to avoid patrol or they simply moved to another location and are continuing to work.
How does FZS help prevent illegal mining?
What can I expect from that newsletter? Why should I sign up right now?
Thank you very much for your time, Astrid.
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Andes to Amazon Conservation Programme
Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) started working in Peru in 1969 and has since supported various projects to protect threatened species over the next decades. Find out more!
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The FZS operates in nine natural protected areas in the southeast and northeast of Peru, covering more than 8 million hectares of land and guaranteeing dynamic for the benefit to all, in particular the local populations. Find out more!