1. The gold in that jewelry? It may have come from an artisanal mine – a small-scale, low-tech, often illicit mine.

A small mining barge pumps water and sand in search of gold. Photo by Rodrigo Abd/AP

2. This sort of mining is really problematic.

Artisanal mining creates more sedimentation in rivers, exacerbates hunting of bush meat, and increases noise pollution.

3. It hurts biodiversity right in its hotspot.

An aerial view of the destruction caused by illicit and unregulated gold mining. Photo by CLASlite Team.

Not only is Peru home to some of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, it is also home to the greatest number of artisanal miners in the world. Mining-related deforestation in one of Peru’s biodiversity hotspots, the Madre de Dios Department, has risen by 400% in the last decade.

4. It violates human rights and hurts children.

Teenage prostitutes sit in a nightclub near gold mines. Thousands of young girls are trafficked into such brothels each year. Photo from amazonaid.org

Artisanal mining encourages human trafficking of children for slave labor and prostitution.

5. Artisanal gold mining is the largest source of mercury pollution.

A river poisoned by mercury sits near once-pristine forest. Photo by Rodrigo Abd/Ap

It dumps about 2,800,000 pounds of the chemical into the environment each year. This pollution results from the dumping of mercury into waterways, burning it off into the atmosphere, and releasing it from the soil as deforestation causes erosion.

6. Mercury air pollution is pretty much impossible to control.

Mercury, bound to gold, is burned off into the atmosphere after its use. Photo from amazonaid.org

7. Mercury has serious consequences for human, animal and plant health.

A man uses his feet to mix mercury with gold-laced sediment. The mercury binds to the gold, making it easier to extract tiny particles from the dirt. Photo from amazonaid.org

It is a neurotoxin, and increases in concentration the higher up the food chain it moves.

8. Mercury contamination isn’t localized to the source.

Graph by the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecosystem Project, published March 2013

In the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecosystem Project, it was reported that 78% of adults living in the capital of the Madre de Dios Department, especially women of childbearing age, had mercury concentrations above international reference limits. Humans hundreds of kilometers away from mining operations can accumulate mercury.

9. Nothing says, “I love you” like 250 tons of eroded earth and toxic waste.

Tons of soil is eroded for mining. Photo by Ron Haviv/VII

It is estimated that for one gold ring, two hundred and fifty tons earth need to be mined, and twenty tons of toxic waste, soil and rock are used.

10. Just don’t do it.

The destruction from gold mines stretches for miles, cutting a deep gash into the Amazon rainforest. Photo from amazonaid.org

Ernesto Raez Luna, a senior advisor to Peru’s Minister of Environment, says, “Nobody should buy one gram of this jungle gold. The mining must be stopped.”


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Cannon, John C. “Amazon Gold Rush Destroying Huge Swaths of Rainforest.” Mongabay. Mongabay, 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.

Rainforest Rescue. “Facts About Gold.” Rainforest Rescue. Rainforest Rescue, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

Watsa, Mrinalini E. “The Making of Amazon Gold: Once More Unto the Breach.” Mongabay. Mongabay, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.

Watsa, Mrinalini E. “The Quicksilver Demon: Rogue Gold-mining Is the World’s Largest Source of Mercury Pollution.” Mongabay. Mongabay, 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.