January 21st, 2015 by James Ayre
The ongoing ‘gold rush’ occurring in the tropical forests of South America has led to extensive deforestation over the last few years, new research from the University of Puerto Rico has found.
Gold-mining in the region has been increasing rapidly in recent years — with a huge spike in such activity being seen since the global recession of 2007/2008.
Given that the region is home to some of the most biologically productive forests/ecosystems in the world, the growing rate of deforestation there is likely to lead directly to notable numbers of species extinctions.
Roughly 90% of this forest-loss was situated in just four areas — with much of it occurring in close vicinity to conservation areas.
Nora L Álvarez-Berríos, the lead researcher, stated: “Although the loss of forest due to mining is smaller in extent compared to deforestation caused by other land uses, such as agriculture or grazing areas, deforestation due to mining is occurring in some of the most biologically diverse regions in the tropics. For example, in the Madre de Dios Region in Perú, one hectare of forest can hold up to 300 species of trees.”
The increase in gold-mining has primarily been the result of growing personal consumption, and the belief that gold is a safe-haven — as far as assets in uncertain global financial markets go.
Global gold production spiked to 2770 metric tons in 2013, up from 2445 metric tons in 2000.
Unsurprisingly this increase in demand has been accompanied by a rise in price — thereby making the mining of previously uneconomical gold deposits (such as underground in tropical forests) now profitable. Said increase in price saw gold rise from $250/ounce in 2000 to $1300/ounce in 2013.
A press release provides more on the subject:
Some of the long-term impacts include the failure of vegetation to regrow, changing of rainfall patterns, the permanent loss of biodiversity, and a release of CO2 into the atmosphere.
In their study, the researchers sought to quantify the impacts of gold mines in tropical forests by creating a geographical database that highlighted the location of newly developed mines between 2000 and 2013. The database was then cross-referenced with annual land cover maps showing the change of forest cover over the same period.
The study encompassed the tropical and subtropical forest biome in South America below 1000 meters, covering Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Results showed that over the 13 year period, 89% of forest loss occurred in just four regions: the Guianan moist forest ecoregion; the Southwest Amazon moist forest ecoregion; the Tapajós-Xingú moist forest ecoregion; and The Magdalena Valley-Urabá region.
While there was relatively limited deforestation inside of the forested strict-protection areas, “around a third of the total deforestation occurred within a 10-km buffer zone around these areas and thus made the areas susceptible to harmful impacts from chemical pollutants that are dispersed from a mining area.”
“To decrease the amount of deforestation that is occurring as a result of gold mining in the tropical forests, it is important that awareness is raised among gold consumers to understand the environmental and social impacts of buying gold jewellery or investing in gold.”
“It is important to also encourage more responsible ways of extracting gold by helping miners to extract in a more efficient way to reduce deeper encroachment into the forests,” stated Álvarez-Berríos.
So something to think about — for those that invest in gold, or have considered doing so. It contributes significantly to deforestation of some of the world’s last remaining old-growth forests.
The new findings are detailed in a paper published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
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