Aerial view of illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon, taken between 7 August 2018 and 9 August 2018. The Peruvian Air Force has captured more than 20,000 images that show how the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed. Photo: Center for Amazonian and National Vigilance (CEVAN) of the Peruvian Air Force

By Yvette Sierra Praeli
24 September 2018

(Mongabay) – Illegal mining is destroying the Amazon. Most people know this, but it is chilling to see the destruction in aerial images that show details of the mining camps, trucks and backhoes operating 24 hours a day. The images also show dredges extracting material from riverbeds, as well as the continuous movement of dozens of people operating them without consequences.

The Peruvian Air Force has given us a look into what is occurring right now at 327 different points in the provinces of Tambopata and Manú, which are in Peru’s Madre de Dios department. Using drones and airplanes, more than 20,000 high-resolution photos and videos of the devastation have been captured.

Monitoring this part of the Amazon took place from 7 August 2018 to 9 August 2018 and was known as “Operation Harpía.” While the Peruvian military captured the images, two police operations were also carried out in real time on the ground near the Madre de Dios River, in the communities of Puerto La Pastora and Tres Islas.

Immediate actions taken against mining

On the morning of 9 August 2018, a team of 12 people carried out this operation using images they received on their cell phones immediately after the images were captured by the Peruvian Air Force. The team was comprised of members of the police force, lawyers specializing in environmental matters, the harbor master of Peru, and the Peruvian Air Force.

“It was a real-time operation,” says attorney Karina Garay, who specializes in environmental matters in Madre de Dios. That day, according to Garay, while the Peruvian Air Force captured the photos in 327 different areas, they used WhatsApp to send confidential information to the team on the ground. In the following hours, the team entered several of those areas.

The georeferenced data shared by the Peruvian Air Force included the exact location coordinates of the mining camps. They also sent the team on the ground the number of people and dredges in certain areas, along with other information that the team could expect to find when they reached an identified location.

The result was the destruction of four dredges, seven rafts, 11 motors, 11 suction pumps, an electric generator, hoses and other equipment used to extract gold from the rainforest. The coordinated effort put into the operation allowed the team to ensure the effectiveness of their intervention.

“Many times, they inform us about places where there is illegal mining, and when we arrive we don’t find anything because they had time to flee. However, under this system, when we arrived, we found everything that the images had indicated,” Garay said.

Each of the places monitored by experts from the Center for Amazonian and National Vigilance (CEVAN) has now been georeferenced and will be watched vigilantly in the coming years. The CEVAN belongs to the Aerospace Control Command within the Peruvian Air Force.

Aerial view of illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon, taken between 7 August 2018 and 7 August 2018. The Peruvian Air Force has captured more than 20,000 images that show how the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed. Photo: Center for Amazonian and National Vigilance (CEVAN) of the Peruvian Air Force

Gen. José Miguel Davis Molina of the Peruvian Air Force told Mongabay Latam that the team will continue to apply this type of operation in other areas of Peru. “We began in Madre de Dios because of the quantity of information that we received about the area, but we have planned to be prompt in other settings in the country,” he said.

A second operation, also based on the information from the Peruvian Air Force, took place on Aug. 14 along the Malinowski River near the indigenous community of Kotsimba. The area lies in the buffer zone of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. Garay, who also participated in this, said the Peruvian Navy requested the inspection in this area. When the images from the first operation were collected, it was decided that the second operation would follow.

According to the Public Ministry of Peru, the equipment destroyed in the second operation included two backhoes, six motors, a set of generators, and nearly 3,000 liters (600 gallons) of fuel. [more]

Chilling images of illegal mining operations in Peru

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