Large mining centers have consolidated in the biome in the last decade

Mining exploded in Brazil in 2022. Data from MapBiomas shows that in just one year the area occupied by the activity in the country grew by 35,000 hectares - the size of a city like Curitiba. Following the trend already detected in previous mappings, this growth occurred basically in the Amazon, which in 2022 concentrated almost all (92%) of the area mined in Brazil. Almost half (40.7%) of the area mined in this biome was opened up in the last five years. There is no doubt about the interest of the prospectors: 85.4% of the 263,000 hectares mined in Brazil are for gold. 

Um dado que chamou a atenção dos pesquisadores foi a concentração do garimpo em áreas protegidas restritas a esta atividade, sendo esta ilegal, como nos Parques Nacionais do Jamanxin, do Rio Novo e da Amazônia, no Pará; na Estação Ecológica  Juami Japurá, no Amazonas, e na Terra Indígena Yanomami, em Roraima. As imagens históricas de satélite mostram que as três primeiras são garimpadas há mais de 20 anos, porém tiveram um crescimento substancial nos últimos 10 anos. Toda a área garimpada na Esec Juami Japurá, por sua vez, tem menos de cinco anos. No caso da TI Yanomami, a expansão exponencialmente se deu de 10 anos para cá. 

>> Os destaques de mineração no Brasil 1985-2022

"The size of these garimpos stands out on the maps and is easily identifiable even by laypeople. It's surprising that they still exist year after year. Their existence and growth is evidence of economic and political support for the activity, without which they would not survive, since they are in areas where mining is prohibited," says César Diniz, technical coordinator of MapBiomas' mining mapping. 

The growth of mining activity in protected areas is impressive. In 2022, the area occupied in these territories was 190% larger than five years ago: almost 50,000 hectares were incorporated into mining in the period. In 2022, more than 25,000 hectares in Indigenous Lands (TIs) and 78,000 hectares in Conservation Units (UCs) were occupied by mining. In 2018, there were 9,500 and 44,700 hectares, respectively. In 2022, 39% of the area mined in Brazil was within an Indigenous Land or Conservation Unit. 

In Indigenous Lands, the areas mined in 2022 were 265% larger, or 15,700 hectares, compared to 2018. Almost two-thirds (62.3%) of the area mined in Indigenous Lands was opened in the last five years. The Indigenous Lands most invaded by mining are the Kayapó (13,700 hectares), Munduruku (5,500 hectares), Yanomami (3,300 hectares), Tenharim do Igarapé Preto (1,000 hectares) and Sai-Cinza (377 hectares). 

Almost half (43%) of the area mined in UCs has been opened up in the last five years. Those most invaded by prospectors are the Tapajós APA (51.6 thousand hectares), the Amaná Flona (7.9 thousand hectares), Esec Juami Japurá (2.6 thousand hectares), Crepori Flona (2.3 thousand hectares) and Parna do Rio Novo (2.3 thousand hectares).

One of the consequences of mining is the silting up of rivers and the contamination of their waters. Satellite images show that the basins most affected by mining activity are the Tapajós, Teles Pires, Jamanxim, Xingu and Amazonas. These five basins account for 66% of the area mined in the country, with Tapajós accounting for 20% (54.8 thousand hectares) and Teles Pires 18% (48.1 thousand hectares).

Industrial mining

While mining is advancing at a rapid pace, the same cannot be said for industrial mining. There has been no growth in the area occupied by it, which in 2022 was close to the 180,000 hectares recorded in 2021. Last year, this area corresponded to less than half (40%) of the total occupied by mining activity in Brazil: 443,000 hectares.

Pará, Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais together account for 339,000 hectares of mined area in Brazil, or 76% of the total. In both Pará and Mato Grosso, mining is prevalent. In the case of Pará, there are 149,000 hectares of garimpo and 48,000 hectares of industrial mining. In Mato Grosso, there are 68,000 hectares of garimpo and 4,000 hectares of industrial mining. The situation is reversed in Minas Gerais, where 68,000 hectares are used for industrial mining and only 2,000 hectares for garimpo.

The municipality with the largest mined area in Brazil is Itaituba, in Pará, with 71,000 hectares, 16% of the country's mined area. Next are Jacareacanga (PA) and Peixoto de Azevedo (MT), with 20,000 and 13,000 hectares, respectively. In the latter two cases, no industrial mining activity was detected: the entire area is occupied by garimpo.