NASA Spots ‘Gold Rivers’ in Amazon, Reveals Illegal Gold Mining Pits


Feb 12, 2021


Image Credit: NASA

A NASA astronaut captured stunning ‘rivers of gold’ in Peru’s Amazon rainforest in photos released by the space agency, revealing the extent of the illegal gold mining wreaking havoc on the Amazon’s ecosystem. What looks like shimmering, sparkling gold streams from above is actually hundreds of illegal gold mining basins filled with water and illuminated by reflected sunlight.

The photos capture the Madre de Dios region in southeastern Peru, which is “home to one of the largest independent gold mining industries in the world,” NASA states, in a country that is the sixth-largest gold producer in the world. Gold mining in this part of the globe is usually undertaken by small-scale miners who depend on it for their livelihood, who search for gold along ancient, dried-up rivers that long ago deposited sediments, including gold.

The widespread practice — one 2018 report estimates the existence of 2,312 illegal Amazon mining sites spanning Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela — causes deforestation, mercury pollution of waterways, and destruction of habitats of species such as jaguars and monkeys. The mining is also carried out in regions indigenous communities call home, which injects mercury into their food, water, and soil, leading to long-term health problems. 

Related on The Swaddle:

The Amazon Lost Forest Area One‑Third the Size of Belgium to Agriculture, Mining in 2019‑20

The fallout from illegal mining has worsened with the Covid19 pandemic, which has led to an increase in the price of precious metals, including gold. This has caused a gold rush in the Amazon that echoes the destruction of the 1980s when illegal miners first flocked to the Amazon rainforest to seek quick wealth. This time around, however, the gold mining is accompanied by heavy machinery and modern equipment, the use of which requires clearing protected forests. 

Without stringent environmental laws and regulations that curb this widespread, dangerous practice and offer alternative livelihoods to those perpetuating it, the Amazon rainforest will continue to be looted for its wealth without regard for its health or the health of its animal and human inhabitants. Unfortunately, this type of regulation looks unlikely. Brazil, home to the majority of the Amazon rainforest, has already turned a blind eye to illegal mining in the region under the current Jair Bolsonaro-led regime.


Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she’s interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team’s podcast, Respectfully Disagree.


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