A popular commodity since ancient times, gold is used for a wide variety of purposes, such as jewelry making, currency backing, medicinal treatments, and etc. (Corti and Holliday 2004). Because of this high demand for gold as well as its increasing prices globally, gold mining has become a very lucrative industry. Gold mining corporations have great interests in extracting gold deposits because it gives them control over the international markets, which are highly dependent on gold stocks and transactions (Blose and Shieh 1995). Thus, mining industries seek to exploit gold mines throughout the world regardless of the ecological importance of the location. Tropical rainforests with gold deposits are often the targets of such companies, placing the species biodiversity in these regions at a great risk. This issue arose in French Guiana, an overseas department of France, in 2007, when its rainforests were threatened due to a proposal to mine for gold from an international mining company – IAMGOLD (Butler 2007). Although there were some potential positive outcomes from the project, the costs greatly outweighed the benefits. However, the solution isn’t as simple as banning this industry, but lies in developing more sustainable methods for gold mining and utilizing environmentally friendly alternatives.
French Guiana is a part of the Guiana Shield – a region extremely important for its ecological and environmental purposes. This area is one of the most intact rainforest areas in the world and harbors extensive species diversity. Specifically, French Guiana has one of the lowest rates of deforestation, with 90% of its area covered with plants, and of that 95% is primary forest. These forests are home to about 5,625 species of plants, and about 1,064 species of mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians (Butler 2007). In addition, the plants in this region store immense amounts of carbon, which could potentially be the source to offset the effects of global warming (Mongabay 2008). Thus, any potential disturbance to this area is likely to become controversial as it would pose a threat not only to the to the biodiversity of the rainforest, but also the environmental future of our planet.
As expected, the project proposed by IAMGOLD in 2007 to exploit gold deposits in the Kaw Mountain region French Guiana quickly became controversial because of the intrusive mining methods planned to occur in this ecologically important area. Planned to last seven years, the project would involve the crushing of 12 million tons of rocks, excavating large pits, removing 370 hectares of primary forest, and using 30 thousand tons of chemicals such as cyanide. While IAMGOLD would reap the profits, the devastating consequences would be left for the Kaw Mountain region, which is home to almost 700 plant species, 100 species of mammals, and 250 bird species, this territory borders Tresor, a protected rainforest reserve (Butler 2007). In addition, the area borders Kaw Swamp, a Ramsar list wetland, which is an organization that identifies wetlands that need to be protected for their endemic species.
Because of the potential negative impacts on the region, such as loss of species biodiversity, destruction of forestry, pollution, health risks and etc., IAMGOLD faced opposition from environmentalists, scientists, and the French Government. Although the mining company continued to advocate its project by promising to take proper precautions, the opposing side recognized the long-term effects that would remain and take a toll on the rainforests and argued against gold deposit exploitation in French Guiana (Butler 2007). The debate between the two sides lasted approximately a year until a final decision was passed regarding this issue (Butler 2008).
Although the French Government eventually declined the proposal, it is impractical to view this as a permanent solution. Because gold mining is such a profitable