NASA Astronauts Capture Photo of Gold Mining in Peruvian Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon rainforest has been at risk from wildfires and illegal logging for the past couple of years. Recently, NASA’s Earth Observatory shared a photo of what appears to be rivers of gold running through the Amazon rainforest in Madre de Dios state in eastern Peru. Captured by NASA astronauts, the photo reveals the shocking amount of gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon.

These prospecting pits are most likely left by independent miners. The pits are normally hidden from view to those on the International Space Station (ISS) but they are highlighted in the photo due to reflected sunlight. The photograph shows the Inambari River and a number of pits surrounded by deforested areas of muddy soil.

Apparently, small-scale gold mining has destroyed more than 170,000 acres of primary rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon in the past decade. Artisanal-scale gold mining began in the region in the early 2000s, coinciding with the construction of a new modern highway connecting Peru and Brazil. The Interoceanic Highway made Peru’s once remote and inaccessible rainforest and surrounding protected lands accessible to anyone.

NASA Astronauts Capture Photo of Gold Mining in Peruvian Amazon

Photo of Gold Mining in Peruvian Amazon | Image: NASA/ISS

Miners set out to collect the flakes of gold in the rainforest, denude the land of trees or remove river sediment, and then use toxic mercury to procure the precious metal out of the dirt. Such activities are catastrophic for the environment.

According to NASA, independent gold mining supports tens of thousands of people in the Madre de Dios region, making it one of the largest unregistered mining industries in the world. This contributes to major deforestation in the region, and mercury used to extract the metal pollutes the water resources.

Madre de Dios is a pristine chunk of the Amazon about the size of South Carolina, where macaws and monkeys, jaguars, and butterflies are in abundance. Although some parts of the region such as the Tambopata National Reserve, are protected from mining, hundreds of square miles of rainforest in the area have been stripped of its trees and turned into a toxic wasteland.

In January 2019, a study revealed that gold mining deforestation destroyed an estimated 22,930 acres of Peruvian Amazon the previous year. That is the highest annual aggregate since 1985. The continuation of this trend could bring about a catastrophic end for a rainforest which is considered the green lungs of the planet.

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