BOGOTA, Dec 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A rise in small-scale illegal gold mining is destroying swathes of the Amazon rainforest, according to research released on Monday that maps the scale of the damage for the first time.
Researchers used satellite imagery and government data to identify at least 2,312 illegal mining sites across six countries in South America – Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.
The maps show the spread and scale of illegal mining and were produced by the Amazon Socio-environmental, Geo-referenced Information Project (RAISG), which brings together a network of nonprofit environmental groups in the Amazon.
“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.
Soaring prices in the decade to 2010 sparked a gold rush and hundreds of thousands of illegal miners poured into the Amazon rainforest hoping to strike it rich. The mercury they use to separate gold from grit is poisoning the rivers, the report said. Mercury seeps into soil, rivers and the food chain and can cause serious health problems.
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