Study: Amazon gold mining wipes out rainforest regeneration for years

Mongabay discusses a study showing how Amazon gold mining wipes out rainforest regeneration for years.

  • New research looking at Amazon artisanal gold mining in Guyana has found that the destroyed Amazon forest at mining sites shows no sign of recovery three to four years after a mine pit and tailings pond are abandoned, likely largely due to soil nutrient depletion.
  • In addition, mercury contamination at the sites drops after a mine is abandoned; mercury is used to process gold. Mercury being a chemical element, it does not break down but can bioaccumulate, so its onsite disappearance means the toxin is possibly leaching into local waters, entering fish, and poisoning riverine people who eat them.
  • The solution would be the proper restoration of mine sites, especially the proper filling in of mine holes and tailing ponds imitating replacement by natural topsoil. Better regulations, much bigger fines and other penalties, along with enforcement of mining laws would also help seriously curb the problem, say researchers.
  • But so long as the price of gold continues topping $1,700 an ounce (as it did during the 2008 U.S. housing crisis), or $2,000 an ounce (its current price during the still escalating COVID-19 pandemic), it seems likely that there is little that can curb the enthusiasm of poor and wealthy prospectors alike for digging up the Amazon.

The remote Guiana Shield of the Northern Amazon holds some of the largest tracts of unfragmented forest on the planet, but the rapid growth of gold mining in the region threatens to leave a patchwork of devastation for many years to come, a new study has found.

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