Environmentalists are demanding urgent action to halt an aquatic gold rush along one of the Amazon River’s largest tributaries, where hundreds of illegal goldmining dredges have converged in search of the precious metal.
The vast flotilla – so large one local website compared it to a floating neighbourhood – reportedly began forming on the Madeira River earlier this month after rumours that a large gold deposit had been found in the vicinity.
“They’re making a gram of gold an hour down there,” one prospector claims in an audio recording obtained by the Estado de São Paulo newspaper.
Danicley Aguiar, an Amazon-based Greenpeace activist who flew over the mining flotilla on Tuesday, said he had been stunned by the magnitude of the illegal operation unfolding just 75 miles east of the city of Manaus.
“We’ve seen this kind of thing before in other places – but not on this scale,” Aguiar said of the hundreds of rafts he saw hoovering up the Madeira’s riverbed near the towns of Autazes and Nova Olinda do Norte.
“It’s like a condominium of mining dredges … occupying pretty much the whole river.”
Aguiar added: “I’ve been working in the Amazon for 25 years. I was born here and I’ve seen many terrible things: so much destruction, so much deforestation, so many illegal mines. But when you see a scene like that it makes you feel as though the Amazon has been thrust into this spiral of free-for-all. There are no rules. It’s as if we’re living in Mad Max.”
There was outrage as footage of the riverine gold rush spread on social media.
“Just look at the audacity of these criminals. The extent of the impunity,” tweeted Sônia Bridi, a celebrated Brazilian journalist known for her coverage of the Amazon.