NASA satellite images uncover toxic ‘rivers of gold’ in Amazon rainforest

Stunning NASA images reveal "rivers of gold" in the Amazon rainforest.

The rare photos show enormous mining pits reflecting sunlight back at the International Space Station.

They are believed to have been dug illegally as part of a gold rush in the Madre de Dios region in southeastern Peru.

An astronaut on the orbiting space station captured the spectacular photographs of the hidden pits in December.

The country is a leading exporter of gold with thousands of miners trying to make a living in a relative free-for-all in the region.

But experts say the area is teeming with life and vital habitats which are being destroyed by the industry and resulting deforestation.

The mining is also said to be poisoning local communities as tonnes of mercury is used to extract the gold.

Scientists say a significant amount of the toxic substance is released into rivers or the atmosphere.

The pits where miners are searching for the precious metal appear as hundreds of basins filled with water, surrounded by mud where vegetation has been removed, NASA explains.

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Miners follow the routes of old rivers where sediments, including minerals, were deposited.

Scientists believe that mining is the lead cause of deforestation in the region which is home to species including monkeys, jaguars and butterflies.

In January 2019, a study found that gold mining deforestation destroyed an estimated 22,930 acres of Peru's Amazon in 2018, according to the group Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project.

Buoyed by the rising price of gold, people from local communities that are often deprived see an opportunity to make a living from mining.

In 2012, there were an estimated 30,000 small-scale miners working in the lush region, the BBC reports.

Another part of Peru, La Pampa was the site of a huge gold rush that lasted close to a decade.

It was finally halted by the government in 2019 when around 5,000 miners were expelled.

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