: Gold mining ramps up, pushes deeper into Peruvian reserve

Gold mining ramps up, pushes deeper into Peruvian reserve

Fri April 29th, 2016

New data indicate a big surge in gold mining in and near Tambopata National Reserve over the past few months.

The quest for gold has been stripping rainforest from around rivers in the Amazon Basin, with not even protected areas immune from mining. The situation has gotten so out of hand that the Peruvian government launched an intervention in January, destroying a slew of mining equipment and more than a thousand gallons of fuel in the southern part of the country in effort to stamp out production. But recent satellite and aerial data show this hasn’t had the intended effect, with a big recent uptick in mining-related deforestation along the Upper Malinowski River inside Tambopata National Reserve.Artisanal gold mining is big in the Amazon. In southern Peru’s Madre de Dios Department alone, researchers estimate 30,000 miners are actively trying to glean bits of precious metal from river sediment. To separate the ore, miners commonly use mercury, a heavy metal that gloms gold particles together into a larger, more extractable mass. After it’s used, the mercury often escapes into the air or water, where it can accumulate neurotoxic levels downstream and up the food chain.Forests are also being affected by gold mining, as trees are felled to make way for prospecting and extraction. The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), a joint venture of the Amazon Conservation Association and ACCA-Conservación Amazónica, has been tracking the forest impacts of one particular gold mining surge as it edged closer and closer – and finally into – Tambopata National Reserve.

The MAAP team’s most recent report finds a big surge in mining activity along the Upper Malinowski River, which borders the reserve. Since September 2015, 130 hectares of forest has been lost, according to the report. This forest lost was particularly severe in February and March. Perhaps not surprisingly, the price of gold also surged in February, and is currently standing higher than it has been in over a year.

Even more recent data from the University of Maryland indicate tree cover loss in the region isn’t slowing, with a high number of deforestation alerts in early April. Global Forest Watch shows this latest spate of deforestation is moving closer to Tambopata’s Intact Forest Landscapes, which are large, untouched areas of primary forest that still have their original levels of biodiversity. These forests are home to a wide array of wildlife, including tapirs, jaguars, and caiman.

GLAD alerts from the University of Maryland show significant tree cover loss within Tambopata National Reserve (the area under the green line) between February 1 and April 8 of this year. The orange alerts occurred in just the first eight days of April.
GLAD alerts from the University of Maryland show significant tree cover loss within Tambopata National Reserve (the area under the green line), with 889 alerts in the area shown occurring between February 1 and April 8 of this year. Of those, 334 (orange) occurred in just the first eight days of April.
Mining activity led to more forest clearing in the first few months of 2016. Data from Planet Labs, SERNANP; image courtesy of MAAP.
Mining activity led to more forest clearing in the first few months of 2016. Data from Planet Labs, SERNANP; image courtesy of MAAP.
Since November 2015, a major mining camp has been established within Tambopata National Reserve's buffer zone. Data from WorldView-2 de Digital Globe (NextView); image courtesy of MAAP.
Since November 2015, a major mining camp has been established within Tambopata National Reserve’s buffer zone. Data from WorldView-2 de Digital Globe (NextView); image courtesy of MAAP.

Citation:

  • Finer M, Novoa S, Olexy T (2016) Invasion of Tambopata National Reserve Intensifies. MAAP: 30.

– This report was originally published in Mongabay and is republished by an agreement to share content.

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