The mining industry has a long record of threatening natural areas, including officially protected areas.
Nearly three-quarters of active mines and exploration sites overlap with regions defined as of high conservation value. Mining is a major threat to biodiversity and to "frontier forest" (large tracts of relatively undisturbed forest).
The spotlighted mine sites below reveal the state of natural degradation caused by mining around the world:
The Grasberg Mine, Indonesia:
The Indonesian province of West Papua, which is the western half of the island of New Guinea, is home to Lorentz National Park, the largest protected area in Southeast Asia.
This 2.5 million-hectare expanse -- about the size of Vermont -- was declared a National Park in 1997 and a World Heritage site in 1999. But as early as 1973, Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, Inc., had begun chasing veins of gold through nearby formations.
This operation eventually led to the discovery of the world's richest lode of gold and copper, lying close to the park boundary. The resulting open-pit mine, Grasberg, operated by its subsidiary PT Freeport Indonesia, has already:
- contaminated the coastal estuary and Arafura Sea and possibly the Lorentz National Park
- led to local violence and strikes
- dumped 110,000 tons of toxic mine tailings a day into the Ajikwa river
- triggered deadly landslide
The Grasberg mine is now visible from outer space. By the time it closes in 30 years, it will have excavated a 230 square-kilometer hole in the forest and produced over three billion tonnes of tailings.
Akyem Mine, Ghana:
After a contentious struggle with community protests, Newmont opened the Akyem mine in Ghana in 2007. This open-pit mine is the largest in Ghana and will destroy some 183 acres of protected forests.
Much of Ghana’s forested land has been denuded over the past 40 years. Less than 11 percent of the original forest cover remains. This biodiversity hotspot supports 83 species of birds, as well as threatened and endangered species such as Pohle’s fruit bat, Zenker’s fruit bat, and Pel’s flying squirrel.The forest reserves of Ghana are also extremely important for protecting many rare and threat- ened plant species.Many community members opposed construction of the Akyem mine, for its potential to contaminate freshwater and destroy the forests on which they depend. The mine is expected to begin operations in 2013.
Pebble Mine, US:
If developed, the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska, could be the largest mine in North America, covering over 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) of land and generating more than 3 billion tons of mine waste over its life.
The company proposes to withdraw more than 70 million gallons (265 million liters) of water per day, nearly three times the amount of water used in the city of Anchorage. This insatiable demand for water is a major threat to the Bristol Bay watershed, which supports the world’s largest sockeye salmon run and commercial sock- eye salmon fishery.116 Salmon, caribou, moose, and the many other fish and wildlife resources of the Bristol Bay watershed are also vital to the subsistence way of life of Alaska Native people, as well as key economic drivers in the state.
The Pebble Project and associated development are opposed by a strong and diverse constituency. The Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, a consortium of 231 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, and many tribal governments of the region have all passed resolutions against the project.119 Commercial salmon fishing businesses, premier Alaska hunting and fishing lodges, fishing and conservation groups, and the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association have expressed opposition, as has Alaska’s senior US senator, Ted Stevens.
Mining the Parks:
The UNESCO World Heritage Convention was designed to identify and protect areas around the world whose cultural and natural value is of "outstanding value to humanity." Placement on the list requires requires extra protection for these special areas whose natural or cultural area extend far beyond local or national borders. Unfortunately, as detailed in our Dirty Metals report, mining companies have even encroached into these areas. Some of the special places that gold mining companies have encroached upon include:
- Okapi Wildlife Reserve, DRC
- Southeast Atlantic Forest Reserve, Brazil
- Sangay National Park, Ecuador
- Huascaran National Park, Peru
- Volcanoes of Kamatchhka, Russia
- Central Suriname NAture Reserve, Suriname
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
- Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Congo
For more information:
- Last Frontier Forests: Ecosystems and Economies on the Edge
- Description of New Guinea's Lorentz National Park from UNESCO
- Condemnation of Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, Public Eye People's Award
- Report on the Grasberg Mine, "Below a Mountain of Wealth, a River of Waste." New York Times 2005
- Report on a strike at the Grasberg Mine, "Indonesia strike hits Freeport's Papua copper mine." BBC 2011
- Report on deadly violence during the strike. "Three dead at Papua Freeport mine, as strike continues." BBC 2011
- Earthworks Troubled Waters
- NASA Earth Observatory's picture of the Grasberg Mine from space
- A report of one of the massive landslides at the Grasberg Mine, "Landslide leaves thousands stranded at Indonesia mine." Rueters 2011
- World Heritage Sites in danger, "Mining threats on the rise in World Heritage sites." IUCN 2011