After Devastation, Some Gold Miners Helping Amazon Rainforest Regrow

Apr 9, 2024

For the past few decades, illegal gold mining has harmed the Amazon rainforest. Now, some miners are working to counteract the damage done.

Illegal mining is performed without permits and often uses banned methods. One of those methods is the use of mercury. It's a toxic metal. Miners began using it in 2008. After cutting down all the trees in an area, miners would then lace the ground with mercury. That helped separate gold from the surrounding dirt. It poisoned the soil and nearby waterways, though. Trees can no longer grow there. Indigenous people who live near the mined lands have suffered chronic mercury poisoning.

For years, environmentalists worried the mercury-tainted land couldn't be restored. However, Pure Earth, a US-based nonprofit, has partnered with local (legal) miners. They treat the soil and start the regrowth process. They use a mixture of molasses and burnt organic materials known as biochar. It absorbs the mercury. The ground becomes less toxic. The treatment has allowed the miners to plant new trees.

"It feels good to see the forest grow back," Pedro Ynfantes told NPR. He is a miner who donated 10 acres of his contracted land to the regrowth project. "We don't want to deforest. When we had the opportunity to let the forest grow back, we took it. It's much better this way."

Though growth is slow, progress is already noticeable, with dozens of acres of new forest taking root. "I am feeling optimistic," France Cabanillas, Pure Earth's local coordinator, said. "We still have a lot to do but this pilot is going well.”

Reflect: What are some ways that humans can continue to draw resources from the Earth without harming ecosystems?

Aerial photo of illegally mined region of Amazon rainforest courtesy Planet Labs, Inc. on Wikimedia Commons.

Which of the following statements from the article presents a fact rather than opinion? (Common Core RI.5.8; RI.6.8)
a. Illegal gold mining has only minor effects on the Amazon rainforest.
b. The Amazon rainforest can recover from mercury pollution without human help.
c. Pure Earth works with local miners to treat the soil and start the regrowth process.
d. Most environmentalists believe that soil treatment is not needed.
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