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Published: October 10th 2015
Human Impact on the Amazon Basin, Gold Mining.
Puerto Maldonado is a large town on the confluence of the Madre de Dios and the Tambatoto rivers in the Peruvian rainforest. The headwaters of these rivers are in the Andes, near the famous Inca capital, Cusco. When the Spanish arrived in Cusco they found temples lined in gold plate and a massive number of gold statues, ornaments.This gold came from the surrounding mountains and over millions of years much of it has been eroded and transported down to the flood plains of these rivers. Sand bars on the rivers, and the forested flood plains, contain the sediment that has been deposited from the mountains, and in it there is gold. This gold is extracted by washing massive quantities of sediment over wooden ramps, the heavier sediments get trapped in grooves while the lighter material is washed back into the river. The gold is separated out using mercury, some of which ends up in the river. This mercury poisons the ecosystem and works its way through the food chain as larger animals eat plants and smaller animals. For humans in the area, fish from the river are a major food source, there has been a drastic increase in dementia amongst the elderly of the area as a result of mercury poisoning. Where forest has been cleared to allow for high pressure hoses to access the sediment the end result is a completely destroyed environment, with no soil remaining. At least 64,000 acres have been destroyed in this way. This impact is subject to changing perspectives over time. The area had in the past been extensively logged, EU tariffs killed the Brazil nut industry, as these industries declined unemployment and poverty increased. At the same time the gold price increased, leading to a massive increase in gold mining. In 2011, with increasing awareness of the problems of forest loss and mercury poisoning, the government brought in legislation to force miners to be licensed and to follow environmentally sound practices. This led, in 2012, to riots and violent conflict in Puerto Maldonado between miners and the police that left three dead. Today it is estimated that between 90 and 98%!o(MISSING)f all mining in the region is still illegal. Even so, perspectives are gradually changing. The increasing importance of tourism, together with awareness of dementia caused by mercury, mean that more people support the regulation of mining. A Google search for 'gold mining puerto maldonado' brings great links from the Smithsonian and Nature. See also the links below, the BBC page has links to more relevant articles. <cite class="_Rm" style="max-width: 95%!;(MISSING) background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0);">www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-17374197</cite><cite class="_Rm" style="max-width: 95%!;(MISSING) background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0);">pulitzercenter.org/reporting/peru-gold
-madre-de-dios-extraction</cite><cite class="_Rm" style="max-width: 95%!;(MISSING) background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0);">
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