A few weeks ago, the United States Space Agency (NASA) published a surprising snapshot taken from space. These images showed the presence of “rivers of gold”, magnificent golden scars crossing the Amazon rainforest. However, this is not good news for the local population and the environment.
A surprising cliché
December 24, 2020 NASA published and explained an impressive photograph. This one, taken above the Peruvian Amazon reveals the presence of “rivers of gold” in the middle of the forest. In addition to the beauty of these huge shiny scars, they unfortunately testify to a gloomy situation. Indeed, it is a question of the illegal but above all destructive extraction of gold in the Amazon. In reality, it is not a question of rivers of gold but of pits dug by illegal miners.
More precisely, the photos concern the region of Madre de Dios, in the south-east of Peru. Usually this kind of activity takes place out of sight thanks to the constant presence of cloud cover. However, a momentary clearing made it possible to reveal the presence of the pits by reflecting the stagnant water which is present there. Luckily, an astronaut from the International Space Station (ISS) seized this rare opportunity to immortalize the phenomenon.
A deplorable situation
The point is, the gold from Madre de Dios is at the heart of an inglorious situation. No less than 90% of the gold harvested in this region in 2016 was from artisanal or illegal mines, as indicated CNN in an article from February 11, 2021. However, the consequences affect both local populations and the region’s biodiversity. With the rise in the price of the precious metal, poor people found themselves at the heart of a real gold rush. Unfortunately, the latter use mercury to extract gold, so that this toxic substance ends its course in the rivers and poisons the local populations.
In a 2013 report (PDF in English / 2 pages) researchers from Carnegie-Mellon University (United States) mentioned the fish populations of the city of Porto Maldonado (Madre de Dios). According to the results of their study, 9 out of 15 species of fish the most consumed by the inhabitants had mercury levels exceeding the regulatory levels. Not surprisingly, approximately 80% of the city’s inhabitants had alarming levels of mercury in their bodies.
Gold panning is a real disaster in several areas of the Amazon, and sometimes even represents the main cause of deforestation. According to Monitoring of the Andean Amazon project, the Peruvian Amazon had lost 9,280 hectares of forest in 2018, or the equivalent of 13,000 football pitches.