A nationwide ban on illicit mining has been in effect in Peru since April 19. The effects of this ban have been most visible in the state of Madre de Dios, a low-governance are where there are an estimated 40,000 illicit miners currently working. Police intervention in the region recently resulted in the destruction of $23 million worth of equipment used in illicit mining and the major joint operation led by the government is not slowing down.

For years the human health and environmental impacts of gold mining in Madre de Dios have not been regulated. Thousands of acres have been deforested and dangerous quantities of mercury have been released into the ecosystem. Recent studies have suggested that the impact of gold mining outpaces the impact from traditional development. Government action to stop illicit mining comes at a crucial time when there is still time and opportunity for the Peruvian Amazon and its inhabitants to recover.

Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd documents the frantic work of the miners up to the moment when government forces arrived to put them out of business.

For more photos see ‘Illicit gold mining in Peru – in pictures’ from The Guardian.