|Researchers from the University of Puerto Rico have discovered a growing threat to rainforests in South America. Approximately 1,680 square kilometers of rainforest were destroyed by gold mining between 2001 and 2013, with a noted acceleration of deforestation in 2007. While the amount of forest lost was less than 1%, the destroyed forest was located in and around areas of conservation.
Production of gold has increased globally from 2,445 tons in 2000 to 2,770 tons in 2013, with high demand pushing prices upwards of $1,200 per ounce. China and India are top buyers of gold, which can be used to create accessories such as dress belts, watches, and jewelry, as well as in electronics and healthcare.
Because of the high price of gold, it has become profitable for miners to extract small amounts of gold ore from rainforest soil and riverbeds. Gold mining has caused the pollution of rivers with cyanide and mercury, affecting local wildlife and preventing the regrowth of vegetation. Vegetation reduction increases the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and causes a change in rainfall patterns.
Gold mining has non-environmental impacts, as well. The construction of roads and mining settlements has sociological consequences. Illegal mining settlements often bring with them poverty, prostitution, and violent rivalries between companies. Road construction attracts poachers, illegal loggers, hunters, and small farmers to the rainforest, all of whom contribute to the violent atmosphere.
Some jewelry manufacturers in Europe and the United States are attempting to combat the exploitation of the rainforests by paying higher prices for responsibly-mined gold. Modeled after the Fair Trade system, the “green gold” program attempts to create long-term industry jobs, protect the environment, and end damaging mining practices.
Senior Vice President of the Rainforest Alliance Richard Donovan encourages other conservation groups to hold governments accountable. By protecting the livelihoods of rainforest residents and working with miners and to create a more sustainable economy, Donovan hopes to address the causes of deforestation.