At the height of the Peruvian Amazon, the forest beam with gold. The glossy pits may look beautiful when viewed from short-Earth orbit, but the image highlights the worrisome problem with returning to planet Earth. An astronaut from the International Space Station (ISS) took this picture of the expected gold hole as it passed over eastern Peru on Christmas Eve.
As explained by the NASA Earth Observatory, the potential holes consist of hundreds of solid water-filled basins surrounded by a reservoir of roots. The worm inter-woven channels on the left side of the image are the Inambari River and the Tambopata National Reserve, which legally protected from excavation, also visible under the clouds in the upper right of the image.
Gold mining is a big business in Peru, the sixth largest producer of precious metals in the world. Unfortunately, some of its extraction is illegal minerals, involving destructive processes that destroy the local environment and the Amazonian community. In recent years, there has an ongoing problem in Peru’s Madrid de Dios where a modern day Goldrush pops up temporary cities and unreasonably exploits for a metallic environment. In addition to the massive upstream forest – the average size of New York City, some calculations – it also introduced a flood of polluted water from the surrounding ecosystem.
One of the main concerns is mercury and its highly toxic cousin cousin methylmercury. Gold miners often use mercury to separate their gold ore from soils and sediments without adequate safety precautions. Mercury, a powerful neurotoxin in itself, is absorbed into water and can then converted to the highly toxic chemical methylmercury by microbial processes.
In Peru and other parts of South America, it is becoming a growing problem. In addition to dealing with the environmental impact of mercury poisoning and illegal gold mining, Amazon communities have also been victims of violence from gold mining occupation of their lands. For example, in the early 1990s, a group of miners entered the village of Haximú in Brazil and massacred 16 Yanomami people, including a child, and eventually five miners convicted of genocide. Recently, two Yanomami have reported dead after a fight with gold miners in northern Brazil. Last year, the Yanomami tribesmen launched a worldwide campaign to create thousands of illegal gold mines from their land in the Brazilian Amazon. Their campaign is gaining momentum, but the problem remains unresolved.