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A new article on VICE.com sheds light on illegal gold mining taking place in the Peruvian Amazon in the Madre de Dios region, home to some of the most biodiverse places on Earth. The Rainforest Foundation US works with indigenous partners in this area and the issues related to conservation, poverty and health are getting increasingly complex.

Gold mining has devastated nearly 370,000 acres of the Peruvian Amazon, an eleven-fold increase since 2000. Not only has deforestation dramatically increased, but also according to the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecosystem Project, miners have released 30 tons of mercury into the country’s rivers and lakes. Mercury is contaminating the local fish and entering the food chain, not only having a detrimental impact on wildlife, but on the health of miners, their families, and indigenous people living in the region.

It is easy to criminalize illegal gold miners in Peru, but as the article states, the 30,000 gold miners in Madre de Dios are some of the poorest people in Peru. For individuals with little education and no recourse to an alternative source of income, gold mining is their only option. At the same time, the worldwide surge in gold prices – more than 300 percent in the past decade – has made mining significantly more lucrative.

The environmental and social problems caused by illegal mining are threatening the health and well being of indigenous peoples living in the area.

The Rainforest Foundation US has begun to work with ten indigenous communities in the area that live near the one million acre Amarakaeri Communal Reserve – an incredibly diverse natural area in the region. With support from the blue moon fund and the Rainforest Fund we are helping communities effectively co-manage the Reserve along with the Peruvian parks department. Effective and sustainable management of the reserve and the buffer areas will protect the area from destructive illegal activity and sustain the health, wellbeing and livelihoods of local communities.

We are partnering with local communities to set up indigenous environmental monitoring programs to document and combat illegal mining and logging. We are also supporting the development of indigenous ‘life plans’ which help each community determine their paths to economic and social development in a way that is appropriate for their culture.

Full VICE article here.