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With information from CNN
SÃO PAULO – Not everything that glitters is gold, the saying goes, as evidenced by a new photo taken from the International Space Station (ISS).
What appears to be rivers of gold flowing through the Amazon rainforest in Madre de Dios, eastern Peru, are actually prospecting wells, probably left by miners, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory, which published the photo taken by an of your astronauts.
The wells are usually hidden from view of the ISS but stood out in this photo due to reflected sunlight.
The image shows the Inambari River and several wells surrounded by deforested areas with muddy wastes.
Independent gold mining supports tens of thousands of people in the Madre de Dios region, making it one of the largest unregistered mining industries in the world, according to NASA.
The mining is also the main driver of deforestation in the region, and the mercury used to extract gold pollutes waterways, the agency added.
Gold prospecting in the region has expanded since the inauguration of the Interoceanic Highway in 2011, made the area more accessible. The purpose of the only road connection between Brazil and Peru was to boost trade and tourism, but “deforestation could be the biggest result of the highway,” said NASA.
The photo, released publicly earlier this month, was taken on December 24.
Madre de Dios is an untouched part of the Amazon approximately the size of the state of South Carolina (in the USA), where macaws and monkeys, jaguars, and butterflies thrive. But while parts of Madre de Dios, such as the Tambopata National Reserve, are protected from mining, hundreds of square kilometers of rainforest in the area have been turned into toxic, tree-less terrain.
The increase in the price of gold in recent years has created complete cities in the jungle, with the appearance of brothels and shootings, while tens of thousands of people across the country have joined the modern gold rush.
In January 2019, a scientific study found that deforestation caused by gold mining destroyed some 22,930 acres of the Peruvian Amazon in 2018, according to the Andean Amazon Monitoring Project group, known as MAAP.
Based on research conducted by the Amazon Forest Innovation Center at Wake Forest University, this total is the largest ever recorded since 1985.
Deforestation in 2018 surpassed the previous record of 2017, when an estimate showed that 22,635 acres of forest were cleared by miners, according to MAAP.
This means that, in two years, gold mining has decimated the equivalent of more than 34,000 football fields in the Peruvian Amazon forest, according to the analysis made by MAAP.