In his latest Captain’s Vlog, Operatives leader Pete Bethune recaps his enviro-commando team’s efforts to stop illegal gold mining in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park and previews its next mission against the miners. As the price of gold has skyrocketed over the past decade, it has triggered an illegal mining boom in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.
These mining operations are small—“artisanal” in industry lingo—but the impact is huge, as the miners use toxic mercury to separate gold from other minerals. The mercury washes into rivers and streams, killing aquatic life. That mercury also accumulates in the bodies of fish eaten by humans.
The Amazon rainforest in southeastern Peru, for instance, has been invaded by an estimated 30,000 miners, according to the Amazon Conservation Association, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit. Research funded by the group found that nine of 15 fish species consumed by people in the area contained mercury that exceeded safety limits established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Researchers also detected high mercury levels in 78 percent of the residents of the region’s capital.
“The worst thing is that they kill endangered wildlife for food,” Bethune said of the gold miners in Corcovado National Park. “It’s an environmental disgrace.”