NASA images reveal huge ‘rivers of gold’ in the Amazon

The images are astounding. Just published by NASA, the US space agency, the photographs taken from space show “rivers of gold” crossing the thick Amazon rainforest on large plots.

These large golden scars are magnificent, to be sure, but also reflect a sad reality: that of the illegal and destructive mining of gold in the Amazon.

Here, nothing to do with rivers. These huge gaping wounds that disfigure the heart of the forest are pits dug by illegal gold miners in the region of Madre de Dios, in south-eastern Peru.

This illicit activity is usually done away from prying eyes, and cloud cover usually obstructs the view of these pits from space. But a thinning momentarily reflected the stagnant water of these artificial basins and an astronaut from the International Space Station (ISS) managed to capture these rare snapshots in December 2020.

Toxic and destructive activity

L’or of Mother of God, 90% of which in 2016 came from artisanal or illegal mines, is wreaking havoc in Peru. Its extraction is both a plague for the local populations and a calamity for the biodiversity of the region.

With the rise in gold prices, the poor people of the region see illicit gold mining as a means of meeting their needs. The other side of the coin is heavy: the mercury they use to extract the precious nuggets ends up in rivers and poisons local populations, especially the natives.

A study by the American Scientific Institute Carnegie showed that nine of the fifteen species of fish the most consumed near Porto Maldonado, a town in the region, had above-norm levels of mercury. No wonder then to see that 78% of the inhabitants of the city also displayed alarming levels of this chemical element in their body, adds Le Point in a survey.

On the other hand, gold panning is gradually devouring the Amazon jungle. In some parts of the region, it is even believed to be the main driver of deforestation. In addition, this illegal activity would have destroyed about 9,280 hectares of the Peruvian Amazon in 2018, according to the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project group. The equivalent of 13,000 football fields.

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