The Madre de Dios, or “Mother of God” region, of southeastern Peru, where the Amazon rainforest meets the eastern slope of the Andes, is one of the most critical biodiversity hotspots on Earth. This area is the headwaters regions of the Amazon River which carries 20% of our planet’s fresh water to the sea. In addition, there are at least 18 different indigenous groups known to reside in this region and have dwelled there for centuries. The huge tracts of lowland rainforest and high elevation cloud forests harbor more than 1,000 bird species, several thousand plant species, untold numbers of insects, and more than 100 mammal species, with countless species yet to be named by science. Some of Peru’s most emblematic animals such as the national bird, the Andean cock-of-the-rock, and the jaguar are found in Madre de Dios.
Unfortunately, illegal gold mining activity poses a serious threat to the health and stability of this critical region. Gold mining, now one of the largest drivers of deforestation in the western Amazon, uses mercury in the process, releasing approximately 100 tons into the Amazonian ecosystem annually. Research has shown that seventy-six percent of all people tested in Madre de Dios have mercury levels at least 3 times above the maximum healthy limits recommended by the World Health Organization, with indigenous children the most affected. In May 2016, a state of emergency was declared in Madre de Dios, as well as 10 other Amazonian regions, over mercury contamination.
Follow this video story-telling of how gold is found in alluvial deposits on riverbanks along tributaries of the Amazon.