Up to 10,000 miners are working illegally in a 60-square-mile area in Guacamayo to extract gold from the Peruvian Amazon region known as Madre de Dios, and it is ruining the once pristine section of rainforest, known as one of the most diverse places on Earth.
Guacamayo is just one of dozens of illegal mining sites that have sprung up over the past three years thanks in part to the new, 1,600-mile Trans-Oceanic Highway connecting Brazil’s Amazon ports with those of Peru, the UK's Telegraph reports.
In addition, legal mining concessions number more than 2,600 today, up from 500 in 2004, the Telegraph said in a January 28 feature story. The rush is fueled by record-high gold prices, which on February 27 were $1,408 per ounce, according to the website Goldprice.org.
On February 20 the website AllMediaNY.com reported that the Peruvian government mobilized nearly 1,000 military and police personnel to destroy 300 pieces of illegal mining equipment, including 200 Chinese-made dredgers, along a stretch of nearly 200 miles of the Inambari River.
"We cannot afford to let rivers get destroyed, with fish subjected to three times the amount of mercury tolerated internationally," Environment Minister Antonio Brack said, according to AllMediaNY.com.
Although the $9 million highway is touted as South America’s infrastructure improvement extraordinaire, it is instead proving to be a conduit for the 300 people who flock to Madre de Dios daily, the Telegraph said. Two thirds of them head to illegal gold-mining sites like Guacamayo.
Illegal gold mining is a $600 million industry in Peru that employs 100,00 people, up from a few thousand several years ago, and the practices have already destroyed at least 2,000 square miles of forest, the Telegraph said.
'Madre de Dios is the most biodiverse region in the world because it was so remote and inaccessible,’ the botanist Oliver Whaley told reporter Alfonso Daniels. “The Trans-Oceanic Highway is like putting a knife into the last large area of rainforest left on earth.”
Moreover, Whaley said, “Madre de Dios is the source of the Amazon, the upper watershed, so everything knocks on from there. The way seeds are dispersed, the fish moving upstream to this region to find breeding grounds, they’re the base of the nutrient cycle. If Madre de Dios collapses, everything will collapse.”
Read the entire tale of reporter Alfonso Daniels’s harrowing journey through the illegal gold-mining region here.