Destruction of Peru’s rainforest by illegal gold mining is twice as bad as experts thought

3D model shows that illegal gold mining is wiping out a global  biodiversity hotspot

Lima

The destruction of a global biodiversity hotspot deep in the Peruvian Amazon by illegal gold mining is twice as bad as previously thought, an authoritative new study using ground-breaking technology has revealed.

According to the report by the  US-based Carnegie Institution for Science, 15,810 acres of rainforest in Peru’s Madre de Dios region, home to various nature and indigenous reserves as well as a booming  eco-tourism industry, have vanished per year since the start of the 2008 global economic crisis.

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.

“Our results reveal far more rainforest damage than previously reported by the government, NGOs, or other researchers,” said Dr Asner, who spent much of the summer flying with the Lidar over the Peruvian rainforest and examining the data.

“The gold rush 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 are talking about a global biodiversity hotspot. The region’s incredible flora and fauna is being lost to gold forever.”

The administration of President Ollanta Humala has made some attempts to crack down on the miners, including raiding the largest shanty towns that have sprung up in the forest in a Wild West atmosphere of guns, brothels and alcohol. Yet the miners usually just melt into the rainforest. Meanwhile, the smaller camps are so well hidden that they have been impossible for Peruvian police to locate – until now.

Although the Carnegie research detailed only the amount of deforestation directly caused by the mining, the impact on the Amazon, and its people, is thought to be far greater. That is due largely to the tons of mercury used to extract the gold; it now permeates the water table and accumulates in the bodies of fish, which are a staple of jungle populations. Local people, including children, have now been found to have unhealthy levels of the element in their blood.

And the invasion of the rainforest by the miners has had many other devastating repercussions, from underage girls being forced to perform as sex workers to the wiping out of game and fowl through overhunting with rifles.

Ernesto Raez Luna, an adviser to Peru’s Environment Minister and co-author of the report with Dr Asner, added: “We are using this study to warn Peruvians of the terrible impact of illegal mining. It must be stopped.”

News
peopleChildren leave in tears as Santa is caught smoking and drinking
Arts and Entertainment
A host of big name acts recorded 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' in London on Saturday
musicCharity single tops chart
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall has become the eighth celebrity to leave Strictly Come Dancing
tv
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
News
i100
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin