The impacts of the financial crisis of 2008 has sent shockwaves across the globe even hitting deep in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. As the awareness of palm oil plantations’ destructive impacts on rainforests across the world grows, another danger has slid under the radar for years. Illegal gold mining in Peru has increased dramatically since the financial crash. This increase in mining has destroyed many areas of the rainforest while placing extreme stress on the rest of the ecosystem.
In a study completed by Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science reveals a disturbing trend in the Madre de Dios area of Peru. His study ‘Elevated rates of gold mining in the Amazon revealed through high-resolution monitoring‘ was published in the September issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America.
Asner used field surveys, airborne mapping and high resolution satellite, which could detect changes in canopy as detailed as 42 inches, to discover the impacts illegal gold mining is having on the Amazon rainforest. The results were disastrous with a 400% increase in gold mining from 1999 to 2012. This increase in mining has also resulted in an increase in forest loss, which has tripled since the 2008 financial crisis from 5,350 acres per year before 2008 to 15,180 acres per year after the financial crisis.
The Guardian reports Asner saying, “Our results reveal far more rainforest damage than previously reported by the government, NGOs, or other researchers.”
Asner continues to put the forest loss in perspective by adding, “The gold rush in Madre de Dios, Peru, exceeds the combined effects of all other causes of forest loss in the region, including from logging, ranching and agriculture. This is really important because we’re talking about a global biodiversity hotspot. The region’s incredible flora and fauna is being lost to gold fever.”
Peru has one of the most diverse biodiversity in the world with 25,000 plant species, 695 known bird species, 460 known mammal species, close to 2,000 fish species, and more than 4,000 butterfly species.
Mongabay reports the other impacts beyond forest loss that are a result of illegal mining. These include an increase in hunting, the destruction of rivers and streams, and toxic waste which is sent down stream to villages.
Like palm oil plantations, mining exposes more of the forest to human interaction while also creating fragmentation. Nature World News reports a study completed by the Imperial College London on the increase road network in the Brazilian Amazon and one of its researchers said “even though roads often occupy less than two percent of a country’s land surface, they may have an ecological impact on an area up to 10 times as large.”
Ernesto Raez Luna, an advisor to Peru’s Minister of Environment, as well as co-author to Asner’s study, hopes the information collected will allow the government to take action against illegal gold mining in Peru and encourages citizens to protect one of the world’s most important biodiversity enclaves.
Some citizens are also trying to fight back. Peru This Week reported in August about Peruvian activist Cesar Arana’s petition to Peru’s President Humala to stop the illegal gold mining. Arana’s petition, ‘Stop illegal gold mining in Madre de Dios, World center of biodiversity’, needs 1,000 signatures to gather the attention of the President.
Illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon is a threat the world needs to take seriously. The impacts on the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems will be a tragedy and worst of all its fueled by pure greed in a poor economy.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons