Fantastic rare photographs published by Nasa have revealed the extent of gold mining – much of it believed to be illegal – in the Peruvian rainforest in the Amazon.
The “rivers of gold” captured in the photos are actually pits believed to have been dug by unlicensed miners, the space agency said.
The pits, usually hidden from sight, were illuminated by reflected sunlight.
An astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS) took the unusual photographs in December.
The photos are further evidence of the extent of destructive gold mining in the Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru.
The country is a leading exporter of gold, and Madre de Dios is home to a huge unregulated industry with thousands of miners trying to make a living.
The area is a hotspot for biological diversity, and the extractive industry has led to extensive deforestation and destruction of vital habitats.
Mining also poisoned local communities as tons of mercury are used to extract the valuable commodity, and researchers say that a significant amount is released into rivers or the atmosphere.
The pits where miners search for gold appear as hundreds of pools filled with water, surrounded by mud where vegetation has been removed, Nasa explains.
Miners follow the routes of old rivers where sediments, including minerals, were deposited.
In parts of the region, which are home to species, including monkeys, jaguars and butterflies, researchers believe that mining is the main cause of deforestation.
In January 201
Waved by the rising price of gold, people from local communities are often deprived of the opportunity to make a living from mining. In 2012, an estimated 30,000 small miners worked in the lush region.
In another part of Peru, La Pampa, a huge gold rush that lasted nearly a decade was finally stopped by the government in 2019 when around 5,000 miners were expelled.