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Controversial Decision to Allow Mining in French Guiana’s Only National Park

French mining company Rexma has received permission to mine for gold in an ecologically sensitive area along the Limonade River in French Guiana, three kilometers downstream from the geographically isolated town of Sa¸l.

French Guiana is a French territory in the northwestern part of the South American continent, and Sa¸l is in the heart of the country. The secluded town is so far off the beaten path that it is accessible only by plane or helicopter. The town depends upon the Limonade for food and clean water and attracts scientists and ecotourists because of its biodiversity.

The decision to allow gold mining was made by authorities in distant Paris and is particularly controversial because Sa¸l is located in Guiana’s only national park, Guiana Amazonian Park. Gold mining has been restricted in the area since the park’s inception in 2007.

Dr. Pierre Michel Forget of France’s National Museum of National History, Ecology and Biodiversity Management, stated in an e-mail that mining will destroy most of the river. He said Rexma plans to “regenerate the forest by planting trees, but it’s impossible to replace it as it was.”

Gold mining has already caused destruction elsewhere in rainforests of French Guiana. Photo by Sean McCann, used under a Flickr Creative Commons license.
Gold mining has already caused destruction elsewhere in rainforests of French Guiana. Photo by Sean McCann, used under a Flickr Creative Commons license.

Sa¸l’s small population, which is approximated at 160, depends mainly on ecotourists. Forget added, “Surely it will impact the village people for years, not to say decades. It will also ruin the supply of clear water, and will impact and pollute the core of the national park.” The head of the river Limonade, where the mining would take place, is one of the many sources of the Grand Inini River, the principal river in the national park.

Tropical ecologist Sébastien Brosse, who works in the area, said local residents are strongly opposed to mining within 10 kilometers of their home. Brosse noted that Arnaud Montebourg, the French minister in charge of industry and mining, has received a report on the pros and cons of mining in Sa¸l. However, as of February 20 Montebourg has not yet released any information about the specific arguments or the status of his decision.

Brosse added, “There is a gold rush in French Guiana. Ecological and human health consequences are of course important, as underlined by quite a lot of recent scientific studies.”

A 2005 article in the journal Environmental Studies and Technology reported, “Since the late 1980s, several studies have shown that human populations in the Amazon basin are exposed to high mercury levels in their fish diet.” Mercury aids in recovering gold from the soil and then contaminates the water, the article notes. According to Brosse, mining has not yet begun as Rexma is awaiting final authorization from French authorities.

Rainforest Rescue is running a campaign protesting the decision to allow mining in Guiana Amazonian Park. Please add your voice by signing a petition to the French authorities.

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