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Chemicals from illegal mining threaten Ecuadorian Chocó rivers

The Ecuadorian Chocó is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, but at the same time one of the most threatened by deforestation. Palm cultivation, forest clearing and illegal mining are among the activities that affect the ecosystems of this region. On November 19, 2020, five people died in the area of ​​Los Ajos, ​​in San Lorenzo, where a hundred minors practiced informal practices.

A report by the Andean Project Monitoring (MAAP) shows that 61% of the Chocó forest has been deforested. This region is located northwest of Ecuador. According to this report from the initiative created by Amazon Conservation and Amazon Conservation, 1.8 million hectares of forest have been lost historically in three elevation ranges. 20% of habitat decrease has been reported since 2000 and it was only between 2017 and 2018 that the loss of 4000 hectares was noted.

Nathalia Bonilla, president of Acción Ecológica, explains that illegal gold mining is one of the biggest problems in this area. This leads to the destruction of forests, the loss of biodiversity, the pollution of rivers and the deterioration of the health of populations.

Mining has persisted in the townships of Eloy Alfaro and San Lorenzo, Bonilla explains, despite the fact that there are precautionary measures in place since 2011 and extended in 2018 to prevent damage from these activities. Bonilla considers that the situation in this area, in particular in the two cantons, is even worse than that of Buenos Aires, in Imbabura.

For Bonilla, this intensified during the pandemic as illegal mining did not stop its quarantine activities. With this, Eduardo Rebolledo, researcher at the School of Environmental Management of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador – Headquarters of Esmeraldas (EGA-Pucese) agrees, who has dedicated himself to the study of quality water from the rivers of the province.

The high concentration of aluminum and iron has become a constant in these ecosystems. The Cachaví River, in the township of San Lorenzo, is the one with the greatest mining impact in the north of Esmeraldas. A 2015 study by EGA Pucese showed that in this river, the standard established for the presence of aluminum was exceeded more than 20 times. The content of this metal is similar in the Huimbi, Wimbicito and Estero María rivers.

Rebolledo says that places that were already controlled before, in the past two years, have been reactivated again and informal mining has become part of the environment. The specialist explains that the rivers in the north have great biodiversity and are also a source of food for people. But fish with deformities have been found in some. So far, it has not been possible to verify whether they are directly related to mining, but this is believed to be due to the amount of metals in this water.

Inty Arcos, technical coordinator of the Mancomunidad del Chocó Andino, explains that in this area of ​​Chocó, located northwest of Pichincha, mining has also become a threat. Although it has been declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, activities continue.

Among the rivers that have suffered the most, says Arcos, is the Pishashi. The chemicals with which the mineral is purified are directed to this body of water. He is now focusing on preventing these activities in San Francisco de Pachijal.

In this area, two biodiversity hotspots are combined: Chocó Magdalena and the tropical Andes. It is estimated that there are over 600 species of birds, 3,000 species of plants and a large number of endemic and threatened frogs. In addition, it is part of the Andean corridor of bears.

The Ministry of Environment and Water has not released an official statement on what happened in San Lorenzo, but informed this newspaper that an environmental inspection will soon be carried out in the area.

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