A photo captured by astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS) in December last year is bringing up a serious environmental crime: behind the brightness of the apparent “golden rivers” depicted, the sun’s reflection hides in thousands of wells. mud dug by illegal miners in a region of the Peruvian Amazon.
The images are magnified evidence of predatory gold mining in the Madre de Dios region in southeastern Peru. The sprawling region, once a sanctuary for species such as monkeys, jaguars and butterflies, faces a process of nonstop destruction caused by greed and the interests of an unregulated industry.
In addition to disorderly deforestation and the destruction of vital habitats, the illegal extractive industry is also poisoning riverside communities, since tons of mercury, which have been used to extract gold, are volatile in the form of methyl and are incorporated into organisms through the food chain.
Deforestation and mercury pollution
The thousands of wells that appear in the photos with a golden glow are basins filled with water and mud surrounded by remnants of vegetation uprooted by excavators to hasten the process of illegal mining. According to NASA experts, these miners follow the routes of ancient rivers where metallic sediments have been deposited over the years.
The Andean Amazon Monitoring Project (MAAP), which also oversees burning in the Brazilian Amazon, published a study in January 2019, revealing that deforestation caused by illegal gold mining had destroyed about 9,300 hectares of forest, something like 8,600 football fields.
Motivated by the increasing increase in gold prices in international markets, many people in need in neighboring communities, even in Brazil, turn to Madre de Dios in the hope of earning a living from gold mining. Since 2019, the Peruvian government has been installing military bases in the region to curb illegal mining.