A new study published this week by the Carnegie Institution for Science revealed the true cost of the gold mining epidemic in the Madre de Dios region. Said lead author and friend of AAF Greg Asner, “Our results reveal far more rainforest damage than previously reported by the government, NGOs, or other researchers.” Among other findings, he reported that the rate of forest loss from gold mining tripled to over 15,000 acres lost per year after the 2008 global financial crisis caused a rise in gold prices.

The researchers were able to map the full extent of the problem for the first time by combining field surveys with airborne mapping and high-resolution satellite monitoring of mining areas that had previously gone unmonitored. The research team, led by Asner and partners from the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment, used a special satellite mapping system that can detect changes in small areas of forest that can’t be found by traditional methods. Their results show that the geographic extent of mining increased 400% between 1999 and 2012. These results were corroborated with on-ground field surveys and data from the Carnegie Ariborne Observatory, including videos like this one and 3-D imaging technology that evaluated forest conditions and detected mining.

“Obtaining good information on illicit and unregulated gold mining, to guide sound policy and enforcement decisions, has been particularly difficult so far,” said Ernesto Raez Luna from the Peruvian Ministry of the Environment. “Finally, we have very detailed and accurate data that we can turn into government action. We are using this study to warn Peruvians on the terrible impact of illicit mining in one of the most important enclaves of biodiversity in the world, a place that we have vowed, as a nation, to protect for all humanity. Nobody should buy one gram of this jungle gold. The mining must be stopped.”

The news comes soon after research led by AAF board member Luis Fernandez showed that the mercury released by illicit and unregulated gold mining is having a severe negative impact on the plants, animals and humans in the region. The Carnegie Institution reports that small illicit mines account for more than half of all mining operations in the area and are some of the heaviest polluters of the tropical forest.

“The gold rush in Madre de Dios, Perú, exceeds the combined effects of all other causes of forest loss in the region, including from logging, ranching and agriculture,” says Asner. “This is really important because we’re talking about a global biodiversity hotspot. The region’s incredible flora and fauna is being lost to gold fever.”