WASHINGTON – The annual deforestation rate in Madre de Dios, a region in the Peruvian Amazon, has tripled since 2008 due to the rapid expansion of illegal gold mines started in response to the precious metal’s high price, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said.
For the first time, researchers were able to create a map showing the spread of mining in the region, which is rich in biodiversity, the paper said.
Gold mining soared about 400 percent in the region between 1999 and 2012, the researchers found.
The study, which was led by Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science with the assistance of Peru’s Environment Ministry, found that thousands of small illegal mines have appeared in the region and are not being regulated.
The scientists used images from the Carnegie Landsat Analysis System, or CLASlite, to detect changes in the forests.
The CLASlite, unlike other satellite cartography systems, uses algorithms to spot even small changes in the jungle.
Small illegal mines accounted for more than half of all mining operations in the region as of 2012, the paper said.
“Our results reveal far more rainforest damage than previously reported by the government, NGOs, or other researchers,” Asner said.