Downside to the Guyana gold rush

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has asked the international community to take note of skyrocketing prices for gold, contending that the investment rush that has stemmed from this is bound to have a very negative impact on deforestation at a time when the world could least afford such a development.

The fund’s Guyana office has just released a study it did with France’s national forestry office showing the increase rate of deforestation in the past decade in Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, arguing that the rate of degradation corresponds with the steady hike in gold prices now at around $1,300 per troy ounce.

WWF Director Patrick Williams said thousands of people, many of them young and unemployed are headed to the Amazonian jungles to pan for gold, attracted by the higher prices and the hope of finding nuggets that can take them out of poverty.

“It is worrying because all they need is a small gravel pump with hoses, a few shovels and ration for a couple of weeks and they are good to go, good to start mining and not even bothering to get legal claims,” Williams said.

The study tracked the rate of forest decline in French Guiana at a rate of deforestation of 3.36 times greater than 2000, Suriname 3.29 and Guyana 2.77 times over the same period, developments the WWF said authorities need to take note off.

It said that high-powered jet pumps used to wash away ore to expose gold-bearing gravel are causing serious turbidity in interior rivers, pollution, serious soil erosion and a slowdown of regeneration because of the absence of soil.

“The illegal and uncontrolled gold mining is having an impact on nature conservation efforts in the Guianas. These discharges are destroying floral ecosystems and causing a significant shift in fish populations. Disturbances in terrain and hydrology also result in stagnant pools that become breeding places for malaria vectors,” the WWF said.

The study comes in the wake of a continuing campaign by the organization to also reduce the level of mercury being used in mining in the three small South American neighbors saying the heavy metal will eventually make waterways unusable. It has also done another showing higher than average levels of mercury in the bloodstreams of jungle shopkeepers who exchange food ration for gold to miners and jewelers who used gold at the end of the process.

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