An artisanal miner in Peru digs for treasure. (AFP/Getty Images)
Amazon rainforest imperiled
in gold rush
Record prices for gold this year have pushed new spectators into the mining business
By Simeon Tegel
PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru — Record gold prices are claiming an unlikely victim: the lush, spectacularly biodiverse rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon.
Since the global economy fell off the edge of a cliff in 2008, sending investors scrambling to put their money into the ultimate safe haven, gold, thousands of illegal miners have flooded into the Madre de Dios region of central Peru.
Now they are ravaging its pristine tropical rainforests and river systems, including some of Peru’s most important nature reserves, using primitive mining techniques to churn through vast quantities of the region’s rich, sandy soils, sparkling with specks of the precious metal.
As the do so, they poison the water table with mercury and carve out vast, toxic holes in the virgin jungle.
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