A 'River of Gold' was pictured by a NASA astronaut on December 24, 2020. While to the world far below this pool of gold looked gorgeous, the mesmerising photo taken by the astronaut on NASA's expedition 64, using Nikon D5 Digital camera, seemed far more grand, ethereal and incredulous! But, is that really gold in the image, or is it just another mirage made of toxic substances?
The picture titles ‘River of Gold’ was shared on social media by NASA showing the golden looking water body in the Peruvian Amazon. While we cannot see what is at the centre of the earth from outer space, the bare surface of the earth can be explored quite beautifully from a vantage point as high as the International Space Station. The picture has a grim backstory- the vast gold and glittery area shown in the image is believed to have formed because of the illegal gold mining in the eastern Peruvian area.
All That Glitters Is Not Gold!
There is a saying – ‘All that glitters is gold’. And it couldn’t better fit for the situation at hand. The river streak in Peruvian Amazon appears to be made of gold in the International Space Station photograph. In reality, the glow covers up the hundreds of pits of muddy water.
The pits, usually filled with plenty of gold, are found in the Thar hills. Peru’s Madre de Dios state is shown in the picture, and it is one of Earth’s largest gold-mining areas.
Here is the truth- all that glitters is not gold, it is much more destructive.
NASA’s stunning photograph revealed the dark truth of illegal gold mining in Peru’s Amazon Rainforest. The image shows pits that are believed to have been dug by illegal miners. These pits are usually hidden but were illuminated in the NASA picture by reflected sunlight.
According to the NASA Earth Observatory website, the glistening pool is a gold-mining pit that is likely to have been dug by miners to unearth some of Amazon’s ancient treasures.
Justin Wilkinson, a grant specialist at Texas University, wrote to the NASA observatory, “De-vegetated areas of muddy soil surround each pit. These deforested stretches follow the courses of ancient rivers that accumulated sediments, including gold.”
Peru - A Large Mine of Ancient Treasures (Including Gold)
Peru is a leading exporter of gold, but its Madre de Dios city is home to the unregulated and illegal industry of miners who are just trying to make a living. The area has been under the radar for its extensive deforestation and destruction of habitats.
Mining in the region is proven to be poisonous to the local communities as a tonne of toxic mercury is used to extract the prized commodity that is gold. Scientists have projected that a significant amount of that toxic mercury is released in the Peruvian rivers.
Underground and Illicit Gold Industry
Around 30,000 small-scale miners have been working outside of the government’s purview illegally. They tore up the rainforest with excavators and dump-trucks to unearth the gold beneath. It has been stated that illegal mining has been a bone to workers in Madre de Dios.
This illicit industry supports thousands of workers as they find treasures for the smuggler lords and mafias. Anc it is all being fone at the high coast of nature’s exploitation, primarily through deforestation (people do anything for gold, right?).
The Gloomy Story of the Gold Rush
NASA explained that the pits where miners were searching for gold appear to be hundreds of basins in the Inambari River filled with muddy water. This region is home to different animal species such as monkeys, jaguars, and butterflies.
A study conducted by Andean Amazon Project in January 2019 found that gold mining and deforestation destructed around 22, 930 acres of Peru’s Amazon in 2018 alone. In 2018, deforestation was peaked when an estimated 22, 635 acres of forest was levelled out by gold miners, according to the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP).
High Gold Worth Keeps The Illicit Industry Alive
With the soaring gold prices, the locals find it hard to find other opportunities to live off of than mining for gold. Communities heavily depend on the cartel to make a living. In Peru, La Pampa is a region where there was a massive and legal gold rush for a decade but was halted by the government in 2019. Resources estimated that companies expelled 5,000 miners.
Mining is the most significant driving force for deforestation in the region, and the mercury used to extract the gold pollutes the waterways immensely. It is destructive to the Amazon more than it is beneficial to the region’s population.