Check out this in-depth article on Mongabay.com exploring the circumstances leading up to Amazon Gold, the award-winning film that exposes the true cost of illicit and unregulated gold mining in the Amazon rainforest.
When Sarah duPont first visited the Peruvian Amazon rainforest in the summer of 1999, it was a different place than it is today. Oceans of green, tranquil forest, met the eye at every turn. At dawn, her brain struggled to comprehend the onslaught of morning calls and duets of the nearly 600 species of birds resounding under the canopy.
Today, the producer of the new award-winning film, Amazon Gold, reports that “roads have been built and people have arrived. It has become a new wild west, a place without law. People driven by poverty and the desire for a better life have come, exploiting the sacred ground.”
She is referring to the nearly 70,000 miners that have flocked to the Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru to extract gold from the sediments of the now-chocolate ‘River of the Mother of God.’ Peru has the largest population of artisanal gold miners in the world, with nearly a hundred new families arriving in the region every day. They come from impoverished areas in the Andes, unfamiliar with the rainforest and without any tangible attachment to it. Somehow, in this strange and novel world, they eke out a living that is fraught with uncertainty and danger. They do it because the price of gold has quadrupled in the last fifty years. Like so many, they do it for the money.
The dangers of gold mining are far-reaching and chilling (see here for a detailed report). Mining -related deforestation in the Madre de Dios Department has risen by 400% in the last ten years. A second threat comes from the mining process used by artisanal miners in Peru to extract gold from river sediment. Despite its obvious toxicity, miners mix cheap liquid mercury into river sediment where it binds to gold particles. They then burn it off to access the gold, simultaneously leaching the mercury into the water, soil and air, and endangering not only their lives but also the incredibly diverse ecosystem around them.