Destruction of Peru’s rainforest by illegal gold mining is twice as bad as experts thought
Date published: 29th October 2013
The crisis saw international gold prices rocket as investors rushed to put their cash into the ultimate financial safe haven. In response, thousands of Peruvians have flooded into Madre de Dios, near the Bolivian border, in search of gold, dredging river beds and digging vast holes in the forest, largely beyond the reach of the law.
While many are impoverished farmers or labourers simply seeking to eke out a living, some have grown rich from the gold rush and now employ hundreds of other miners. Some use mechanical diggers and even dredging boats that can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Using a light aircraft mounted with Lidar, a new laser technology that can create 3D models of the Amazon and even pick out individual trees, the Carnegie study, carried out in collaboration with Peru’s Environment Ministry, was able to map the devastation in far greater resolution than previous research.
The results were then cross-referenced with earlier studies, allowing researchers to “break open” the pixels in the lower-resolution studies to reveal the true extent of the devastation. That allowed the team to discover the existence of numerous small, previously undetected mining camps hidden deep in the rainforest across Madre de Dios.
According to Greg Asner, the Carnegie scientist who led the study and co-authored a report in the US’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these small camps account for 51 per cent of the total mining in the area.
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