New forest clearing in a protected area in Brazil linked to mining

  • Extensive clearing of primary forest has been detected in the Tapajós Environmental Protection Zone in the Brazilian Amazon, possibly due to illegal mining activities.
  • Planet satellite images confirm that deforestation, which covers about 1,250 hectares (3,090 acres), an area the size of a major international airport, occurred between January and February of this year.
  • Mining activity is the presumed contributor to this forest loss, as the open area surrounds a long-standing feature resembling an airstrip and partially overlaps a proposed gold mining concession.
  • Several bills are pending in both chambers of Brazil’s Congress that, if approved, would create loopholes for mining in indigenous territories and grant amnesties to land grabbers.

Extensive clearing of primary forest has been detected in a protected area in the Brazilian Amazon, possibly due to illegal mining activities.

In March, the University of Maryland’s Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) laboratory detected an area of ​​newly cleared forest in the Tapajós Environmental Protection Zone, west of the town of Novo Progresso in the state of Pará. Satellite images from Planet Labs confirm that deforestation, which covers about 1,250 hectares (3,090 acres), an area the size of a major international airport, occurred between January and February of this year.

Satellite data from the University of Maryland shows an open area within Tapajos PA in 2021. Background image from Planet.

Mining activity is the presumed driver of this forest loss, as the cleared area surrounds a long-standing feature resembling an airstrip, and many examples of airstrips along mining areas can be found in the surrounding landscape. The area also partially overlaps with “in application” gold mining concessions according to data from Brazil’s National Mineral Production Department visualized on Global forest watch.

The area of ​​recently cleared forest partially overlaps with gold mining claims.  Image from Global Forest Watch.
The area of ​​recently cleared forest partially overlaps with gold mining claims. Image from Global Forest Watch.
Planet’s monthly satellite image shows that deforestation occurred between January and February 2021.

The recently cleared region lies in an area of ​​the Tapajós-Xingu rainforest that has overall high intact biodiversity, according to the United Nations Environment Program’s World Conservation Monitoring Center. It is also classified as a key biodiversity area by BirdLife International.

The Tapajós Environmental Protection Area falls under the designation of “Protected Landscape”, which in Brazil refers to an area of ​​cultural, ecological or biological significance that has been shaped by man. For-profit activities such as logging or mining concessions are permitted in a protected landscape, according to the management plan for the region.

However, according to Human Rights Watch, the Tapajós basin is an “epicenter of illegal gold mining in the Amazon rainforest”. The indigenous Munduruku peoples who live in the basin have reported increasing illegal mining encroachments on their lands in southwestern Pará by miners armed with feral cats known as the garimpeiros since March of this year.

Mining poses significant threats to the health of populations and surrounding and downstream ecosystems beyond the effects of deforestation. It has been ‘linked to dangerous levels of mercury poisoning, mercury widely used to process gold, in several communities of Munduruku along the Tapajós Basin, ” HRW reports.

The Tapajós River Basin provides an expanding market for crops, livestock, and natural resources such as gold. The completion of the Ferrogrão railway in 2019, described as a “vector of devastation” by Amazon Watch, enabled the transport of goods, people and infrastructure in and out of the area, further fueling deforestation and illegal activities.

Illegal mining in Munduruku indigenous territory, southwestern Pará, in September 2019. Image by Christian Braga / InfoAmazonia.

The recent illegal deforestation and illegal mining in the Brazilian Amazon has been blamed on the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro. Since taking office in 2019, deforestation in Brazil has increased by almost 50%, reaching a peak in 12 years. In 2020, the state of Pará had the highest rates of deforestation and fires of any state in Brazil.

“The Bolsonaro administration has weakened agencies responsible for protecting the environment, by effectively promoting criminal networks involved in illegal logging and mining, among others, in the Amazon, ”HRW said.

“The forest is vulnerable and things have been getting worse for a few years now,” said Paulo Barreto, researcher at Imazon, an independent Brazilian NGO, said Amazon Watch. “Worse still under the current administration.”

Many invoices are pending in the lower and upper chambers of Brazil’s Congress which, if approved, would create loopholes for mining in indigenous territories and grant amnesties to land grabbers.

“This signal and expectation that the government will approve mining in the [Indigenous territories] increases the number of invaders and degraded areas, ”said Camila Ramos, researcher at the National Amazon Research Institute. Amazon Watch. “These invaders deceive and force the indigenous peoples of Munduruku to cooperate and participate in mining activities, which leads to the rapid destruction of the forest.”

Banner Image: Deforestation alerts (GLAD) for March 2021. Screenshot from Global Forest Watch.

Editor’s Note: This story was fueled by Places to watch, a Global Forest Watch (GFW) initiative designed to quickly identify forest loss around the world and catalyze further investigation of these areas. Places to Watch relies on a combination of near real-time satellite data, automated algorithms and field intelligence to identify new areas on a monthly basis. In partnership with Mongabay, GFW supports data-driven journalism by providing data and maps generated by Places to Watch. Mongabay maintains full editorial independence over stories reported using this data.

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Conservation, deforestation, environment, forests, gold mining, green, illegal mining, indigenous reserves, land grabbing, mining, rainforests, threats to rainforests, rainforests


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