The Amazon rainforest is home to 10 percent of the world's known species, and its ancient trees remove millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide per year from the atmosphere. Its pristine forests, however, are increasingly under threat.

The soil underneath some of the rainforests is laced with gold, and each year, thousands of kilometres of the Amazon rainforest are devastated by illegal gold mining.

Dirty gold is gold that was extracted at a cost to people and the planet that is unacceptable ... I think we are going to have to assume that most of the gold that is newly mined and sold in US jewellery stores is irresponsibly produced because we don't have that independent certificate that provides us assurance otherwise.

Payal Sampat, director of No Dirty Gold

In Peru, where the rainforest covers about 60 percent of the country, illegal mining operations threaten local communities and turn swaths of rainforest into barren waste sites.

Large-scale mining operations cause habitat loss and soil erosion. Toxic waste such as mercury also enters the food chain and contaminates the surrounding area. Local artisanal miners often contend with invading illegal mining operations.

So what are the consequences of illegal mining for local communities and the ecosystem? What can be done to stop the destruction of the rainforest? And what happens to the dirty gold once it leaves Peru? 

Techknow host Phil Torres travels to Peru to investigate the devastating impact of illegal gold mining. He meets ecologist Francisco Roman and miners in Manuani who are working to restore land in the Tambopata Reserve in the Madre de Dios region of Peru.

Roman explains that irresponsible mining practices have long-lasting consequences for the ecosystem. "If we don't do anything about it now, the recovery process could take hundreds of years... perhaps even thousands," he says.

Fighting illegal mining for indigenous communities also means protecting homes and livelihoods.

"This is where we live, this is where we die, and this is where our children grow up," says Sergio Perea Ponce, a local miner and president of the community of indigenous people Tres Islas. "We're all living here together so we need to find a way to work together and follow the government's rules."

But the land damage done by illegal mining outpaces restoration efforts. Reclaiming old mining sites is expensive and bringing ecosystems back to life could take decades. 

A long supply chain also means that many foreign retailers and consumers don't know where their gold is coming from. While some retailers have declared commitment to responsible gold sourcing, director of No Dirty Gold Payal Sampat suggests that there is a long way to go to monitoring supply chains in destination countries such as the United States.

"I think we are going to have to assume that most of the gold that is newly mined and sold in US jewellery stores is irresponsibly produced because we don't have that independent certificate that provides us with assurance otherwise," says Sampat.

Despite the challenges posed by illegal mining in Peru, the former adviser to the Ministry of Environment, Ernesto Raez-Luna, expresses some optimism: "There is hope because humans beings can do great things. And the great things that we do don't need to be just destructive things. But the key element is knowledge. You need to know in order to act."

Source: Al Jazeera