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Title: Operation mercury: Impacts of national‐level armed forces intervention and anticorruption strategy on artisanal gold mining and water quality in the Peruvian Amazon

Artisanal and small‐scale gold mining (ASGM), a wealth‐generating industry in many regions, is nonetheless a global challenge for governance and a threat to biodiversity, public health, and ecosystem integrity. In 2019, the Peruvian government mobilized a targeted, large‐scale armed intervention against illegal ASGM, which has caused deforestation and water resource degradation in this Tropical Biodiversity Hotspot. Before the intervention, the extent of waterbodies created by mining (mining ponds) was increasing by 33%–90%/year; after, they decreased by 4%–5%/year in targeted zones. Mining activity indicators showed 70%–90% abandonment. New mining activity accelerated in nearby areas outside the targeted area (pond area increases: 42%–83%; deforestation increases +3–5 km2/year). Far from intervention zones, mining remained stable during the study period. Our analysis demonstrates that targeted, large‐scale government intervention can have positive effects on conservation by stopping illegal mining activity and shifting it to permitted areas, thereby setting the stage for governance. Continued conservation efforts must further address the impacts of informal mining while (1) limiting environmental degradation by legal mining; (2) remediating former mining areas to reduce erosion and enable reforestation or alternative uses of the landscape; and (3) sustaining such efforts, as some miners began to return to intervention areas when enforcement relaxed in 2022.

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Conservation Letters
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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