Mining deforestation nearly tripled between 2000-08 –WWF

-but still lowest in Guianas

The deforestation rate due to mining activities in Guyana from 2000 to 2008 increased 2.77 times according to an assessment by the World Wildlife Fund-Guianas.

Despite this increase, this rate is the lowest within the three Guianas: Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, Regional Goldmining Pollution Abatement Coordinator, Rickford Vieira said. The WWF yesterday unveiled the results of an assessment which was done to determine the deforestation rates of small and medium scale mining in the Guianas. The project was funded by several agencies and falls under the Gold mining Pollution Abatement component of the Guianas Sustainable Natural Resource Management Project 2007-2011.

In a presentation, Vieira said that 5335.1 hectares of Guyana’s forest was deforested due to mining activities in 2000 and this increased to 14 781.9 hectares in 2008. This was a rate of 0.02% in 2000 increasing to 0.06% in 2008, an increase of 0.04%. The assessment focused only on mining activities and excluded roads, agricultural activities, settlements and so on.

Quizzed on whether this rate may have increased since 2008, Vieira said he suspected that this may be so given that more people have entered the sector given high gold prices.

WWF Guianas in collaboration with the ONF (National Forestry Office, France) had in September 2008, commissioned the assessment using satellite images and other digitized data to determine the rate of deforestation of areas in Guyana, Suriname French Guiana and Northern Brazil (Amapa) due to small and medium scale mining activities. The studies were done for base year 2000 and correlated with 2008 to determine the rate over the 8 year period and corresponding maps were developed

In a statement, WWF said that it recognizes the urgent need for immediate action in the interior of the Guianas to minimize degradation. “The use of inappropriate mining practices is creating extensive damage to the fragile tropical environment in the mining areas”, it said. Hydraulic mining is the most common gold mining method used in the Guianas today and current estimates suggest that there are about 5000 to 8000 mining units in operation. Heavy equipment and powerful hydraulic jets are used to remove the overburden and the forest cover in order to expose the ore body.

The conservation organisation noted that deforestation from gold mining causes significant erosion in the sloping landscapes of the mining areas, leading to changes in soil quality which slows down forest regeneration. The large volume of discharge of effluent from hydraulic mining operations also causes turbidity and siltation downstream from the mining sites.

Pointing out that Guyana has the lowest deforestation rate among the three countries, Vieira noted that in French Guiana and Suriname, it is mostly new deposits of gold that are being worked while here many of the areas have been worked before.  In addition, he noted that the majority of the mining operations in French Guiana are illegal. In 2008 in French Guiana, 20 966.7 hectares were deforested by mining activities compared to 6421.9 in 2000 while in Suriname, 27 258.8 hectares were deforested in 2008 by activities compared to 8295.9 hectares in 2000.

The WWF says that current indications are that the very high price of gold on the world market will continue to fuel mining activities which will impact on the forest ecosystem.

It handed over copies of the data to several agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, the Office of Climate Change and others yesterday. This is part of its efforts to support the government in improving the monitoring of gold mining activities and deforestation in connection with the REDD and REDD+ initiatives.

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