Amazon gold rush: the rainforest is disappearing
Green or gold? The Final Choice of Mankind

The Amazon represents over half of the planet's remaining rainforests, and comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world, and currently there are only about 5.5 million km2 remain covered by the rainforest.

The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Bolivia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela.

The Amazon rainforest actually contains a lot of gold. Peru, which borders the sea in the west of the rainforest, is the largest producer of gold in Latin America. And according to Brazil’s national space research agency INPE, forest clearances in Brazil's portion of the Amazon increased 1.8% in June compared to a year ago, to 1,062 km2. The report also pointed out that the three major causes of rainforest shrinkage are deforestation, cattle ranching, and illegal mining.

Peru battles the golden curse of Madre de Dios

In February 2021, NASA published a photo of eastern Peru taken by the International Space Station (ISS). On the left is the Inambari River, and the "Golden River" glittering on the right is not a river, but prospecting pits illuminated by reflected sunlight.

In the heart of the Peruvian Amazon lies a man-made desert. It was once pristine rainforest, but a decade of illegal gold mining has transformed it into a wasteland. Madre de Dios, Peru is home to one of the largest independent gold mining industries in the world. Mining is the main cause of deforestation in the region, and it also can cause mercury pollution. Yet tens of thousands of people earn their living from this unregistered mining.

The extraction of little gold needs many more soils. According to the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project group (MAAP), gold mining has decimated the equivalent of more than 34,000 football fields in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest just in two years from 2017 to 2019.

The Peruvian government launched Operation Mercury, a series of highly-coordinated military interventions that apprehended illegal gold miners and destroyed the mining camps. The operation was named after the mercury from the gold-extraction process. To extract gold from muddy water, the same amount of mercury is needed. The massive mercury poured in the water causes serious pollution in local rivers and even enters the food chain, affecting people's health.

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose for fourth straight month

Brazil’s Amazon is suffering from the same gold rush as Peru. Illegal gold mining activity has risen sharply over the last five years in Brazil’s indigenous Yanomami reservation in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.

The Yanomami and local officials estimate there are more than 20,000 illegal miners on their land. They say the numbers have increased since the 2018 election of President Bolsonaro, who has vowed to develop the Amazon economically and tap its mineral riches.

Although the mining is small in scale, it is devastating to the environment. Trees and local habitats are destroyed and the mercury poisons the water. Brazil’s army has tried to stop miners entering, but they return as soon as the soldiers leave. The military and police can only destroy their gold mining tools, hoping to slow the speed of destruction.

Humans must make the final decision

Experts worry that force suppression will not be able to fundamentally solve the problem of gold mining as the miners do it for a living. The "El Dorado" in South America was once a treasure legend sought by Europeans. Today, hundreds of years later, the same greed extends from the Andes Mountains to the vast Amazon River basin. Sooner or later, mankind must make a final decision from the green rainforest that supports the earth and human’s life, and the gold temptation of luxury and wealth.

  • Amazon rainforest – Wikipedia.
  • Reuters.
  • Reuters.
  • NASA Earth Observatory.
  • BBC News.
  • PBS NewsHour.
  • Remo News.
  • Formosa News.
  • Amazon Conservation.

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