The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Unprecedented New Map Unveils Illegal Mining Destroying Amazon
The survey, released Monday by the Amazon Socio-Environmental Geo-Referenced Information Project (RAISG), identifies at least 2,312 sites and 245 areas of prospecting or extraction of minerals such as gold, diamonds and coltan in six Amazonian countries—Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. It also identified 30 rivers affected by mining and related activities.
"The scope of illegal mining in the Amazon, especially in indigenous territories and protected natural areas, has grown exponentially in recent years, with the rise in the price of gold," said Beto Ricardo, head of the RAISG, in an accompanying report about the map.
Survey reveals more than 2,000 points and 200 illegal mining areas in six Amazonian countries.RAISG
The map is a compilation of primary information from RAISG partners, analysis of satellite images and news stories published in the six countries up to 2017.
"The problem is worse than at any other time in history," Alicia Rolla, one of the coordinators at RAISG, told the New York Times. "We wanted to give visibility to the enormity of an issue that doesn't respect borders."
Of the 245 identified extraction areas, 110 sites were in Peru's Madre de Dios region—ground zero of the country's gold rush, and home of the massive and rapidly expanding "La Pampa" illegal gold mine. This formerly lush Amazonian department contained the "most pronounced degradation caused by gold prospecting," the report said.
Small-scale gold mining operations involves the use of mercury to separate gold from grit. When the toxic metal is released into the soil or bodies of water, it can enter the food chain and lead to health problems for local and indigenous communities, as Reuters noted.
"Illegal mining can kill us," Agustin Ojeda, an indigenous leader of Venezuela's Shirian people, said in the RAISG report.
"The mining wells allow for the reproduction of mosquitoes that bring diseases, such as malaria. The effect of mercury on water isn't taken seriously either. It not only contaminates water but also the fish we eat," he explained.
According to the RAISG report:
"In Peru, preliminary results from a study by CINCIA reveal that mercury levels in fish are 43 percent higher in wells abandoned by gold mining than in areas where there is no gold prospecting. Samples of fish were collected in seven lakes in the abandoned mining areas of Maze, Tambopata, Madre de Dios and Inambari. In addition, fish samples were collected in two lakes or riverside lagoons and a river in the Manu National Park, as a control area with no mining activity."
Nilo D'Avila, campaigns director at Greenpeace Brazil, told the Guardian that the RAISG map confirmed his own research showing garimpo—or artisanal mining for gold and other minerals in Amazon forests and rivers—is increasing.
"There is a garimpo epidemic in Brazil," he said. "We are talking about impact on biodiversity and forests, we are talking about the use of mercury, we are talking about stealing riches from indigenous people and from Brazil."
One of the affected most affected by mining is Yanomami territory, which extends between Brazil and Venezuela. It contained 55 illegal mining sites in protected areas, the map showed.
The map was released just weeks before Brazil's president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, takes office next month. Environmental groups have raised concerns about what his presidency could mean for the future of the Amazon, as Bolsonaro has promised to open more of the rainforest to development.
"Illegal mining is a serious threat to the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous peoples who call it home," Moira Birss, spokeswoman for Amazon Watch told Reuters.
"This report provides important new data and clearly demonstrates the scope of the problem, and as such is a call to action to regional governments and the companies that purchase the illegally-mined minerals to take bold, concrete action to stop the destruction."
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Emily Deanne
Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.
By Lorraine Chow
Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.
States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
By Kristin Ohlson
From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.
Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.
By Hans Nicholas Jong
Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.
It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."