Peru: dramatic rainforest loss from mining

Gold mining in Peru has razed almost 62,500 hectares of rainforest —an area over ten times the size of Manhattan—between October 2012 and October 2016, according to a new report by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP). While the tendrils of gold mining are spreading across the country, the region of Madre de Dios still accounts for the vast majority of mining-related deforestation to date, MAAP researchers write.

The report did find that deforestation attributed to artisanal and small-scale mining has slowed in recent years. Mining activity peaked between 2010 and 2012—when it was destroying some 6,300 hectares of forest per year—but has since fallen by over 40% to some 2,700 hectares per year. The decline is attributed to stepped-up enforcement. But the problem remains serious, with much of the mining taking place within the buffer zones of protected areas.

Altogether, illegal mining razed 6,406 hectares of forest—equivalent to around 9,000 soccer fields—across the buffer zones of three protected areas: Tambopata National Reserve, Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, and Bahuaja Sonene National Park, MAAP reported. Mining-related deforestation was most severe in the buffer zone surrounding Tambopata National Reserve, where nearly 4,000 hectares of forest have been cleared since 2012. Since the first invasion in 2015, mining has leveled 450 hectares of primary and secondary forest actually within the reserve. The Tambopata reserve is home to some 600 species of birds, 1,200 species of butterflies, and 200 species of mammals.

Amarakeri Communal Reserve—land of the Harakmbut, Yine and Machiguenga indigenous peoples—has also been subject to recent mining activity. Illegal miners cut back 11 hectares of of forest within the park boundaries between 2014 and 2015.

Most artisanal gold miners—comprising over a quarter of the industry in Peru—still use mercury to separate flecks of gold from sludge dredged from river beds or excavated from cleared land. The mercury is then burned off, leaving chunks of gold and toxic vapor behind. Mercury contamination—which can cause tremors, insomnia, memory loss, and other symptoms—has been detected in communities in the Peruvian Amazon. Peru declared a 60-day state of emergency in Madre de Dios earlier this year after a growing number of studies revealed toxic levels of mercury in local communities. (Mongabay, Nov. 24)