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Implementing the latest solutions to solving environmental degradation and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest
The main objective of this report is to establish the main industries and their processes which are harming the Amazon rainforest and to determine the latest solutions which can be used to revert or mitigate these effects. Furthermore, the mentioned sustainable solutions within the report will be delivered to president Bolsanaro to advise in rainforest policy. The main industries which will be critically assessed are: Mining, agriculture and logging. These are the biggest industries currently operating in the Amazon rainforest and incurring the most damage to the rainforest.
My colleagues Cian O’Reilly, Dylan O’Flynn and Michael Mullarkey will assess the economic, ethical and environmental concerns, respectively. My role on behalf of the company Amazonia Inc. is to refer to the relevant science and engineering practices that can be adopted for sustainable integration into industry. The latest remediation practices, waste minimisation and sustainability management will all be assessed to determine best ways to mitigate industries effects on the Amazon rainforest.
The state of the Amazon rainforest is one of the most pressing environmental issues in the 21st century, and how it is managed will affect the future. It is the worlds largest tropical rainforest and ranges over 5.5 million km2 and crossing nine nations in South America (Hansen et al., 2013). Due to the rainforests massive size it has been referred to as ‘the lungs of the Earth’, the rainforest acts as a carbon dioxide sink and emit oxygen through photosynthesis. About 50% of the world’s oxygen is produced by phytoplankton living in the oceans (Chapman, et al., 2013) and the rest of Earths oxygen is produced by terrestrial plants, by photosynthetic processes. Photosynthesis occurs by plants capturing sunlight and using the energy to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. It is a critical process for life on Earth by creating oxygen which makes aerobic respiration possible. About 20% of the Earths oxygen is produced in the Amazon rainforest. The greenhouse gas carbon dioxide which causes heating of the Earth, is removed from the atmosphere and stored in trees and plants above and below ground acting as a carbon sink. The Amazon rainforest is at threat due to many anthropogenic processes occurring at a rapid and unsustainable rate. Deforestation due to agriculture, mining and tree logging are decimating the rainforest at an unprecedented rate, since 2016 deforestation has increased 29%. The industrial processes that take the most amount of Amazonian rainforest land are as follows: Agriculture (20%), pastures (60-70%), mining (1-2%) and logging (2-3%). Mining accounts for a small amount of the area but it is a root cause for the other sources of deforestation (Sonter, et al., 2017). Cattle ranching and pasture grazing is the biggest contributor to Amazon rainforest deforestation at 60-70%.
Mercury is a heavy metal of known toxicity and poses many health threats to wildlife and humans, it is noted for inducing disastrous public health impacts such as Minamata Bay in Japan. The mining industry utilizes mercury for gold mining, the mercury employed readily amalgamates with gold particles in the ore. However, the basic techniques employed by small scale or illegal miners in the Amazon frequently leads to the emissions of mercury into the atmosphere and into waterways (Fritz et al., 2016). Once inorganic mercury enters the environment it can be readily methylated by some sulphate reducing bacteria and iron reducing bacteria making it soluble in animal fatty tissues, thus causing bioaccumulation at lower trophic levels and leading to biomagnification up higher trophic levels.
It has been discovered that small-scale miners are less efficient with their use of mercury compared to larger mining companies, small scale-miners release an estimated 1.32kg of mercury into waterways for every 1kg of gold extracted. According to the USEPA it is possible to safely and economically recover gold without mercury and that many artisanal and small-scale mining operations are achieving high rates of gold recovery (USEPA). If the sector is left unregulated in the Amazon rainforest, then the land will be deemed useless for future use and will be similar to the highly polluted superfund sites now found across the US, including the abandoned New Idria mercury mine site which has been polluting waterways for three decades (Ganguli et al., 2000).
The burden mining causes on forested areas is massive with an estimated 11,670km2 of deforestation between 2005 and 2015 (Sonter et al., 2017). About 90% of mining induced deforestation occurred outside government granted leases, the cause of deforestation outside the mining sites was due to workers housing, new transportation routes, roads, railway and airports.
2.1 Mining solutions
Mentioned earlier are the environmental impacts of mining in the Amazon rainforest and its role in deforestation, solutions are set out below.
- There needs to be strict watch dog oversites and strict governmental regulation on the usage of toxic chemicals allowed into mining processes.
- Treatment and storage of spent chemicals needs to be routinely implemented and ensure that no run off enters the rainforest environment. This can be achieved by using storage facilities above ground or landfill, secondary containment can be implemented by using bund walls to contain spillage or leaks.
- The USEPA sets out guidelines on alternative gold mining practices which avoid the usage of mercury, these include: Panning, sluicing, shaking tables, spiral concentrations, vortex concentrations and centrifuges are all possible concentration methods to retrieve gold from sediment and ores (USEPA, 2014).
- Most of the mining occurred outside government leases, this should be curtailed and reduced, use pre-existing or already deforested lands for housing, airports and roads.
- Illegal mining should be reduced because it cannot be regulated and there is no accountability.
There is clearly a need for the minerals that the Amazon rainforest holds, but this must be achieved with the least possible environmental burden using sustainable rainforest management. It is acknowledged that the Amazon rainforest holds vast amounts of precious metals and uranium that most of the world uses, but we would urge that cleaner, safer and more remediation practices be implemented for the continuation of mining processes. The integrity of the Amazon rainforest is in the best interests of the Social Liberal Party of Brazil and for the people of Brazil.
3. Agriculture industry
In the year 2016-2017 deforestation in the Amazon dropped 16% from previous years. The reasons for decline in deforestation was due to increased enforcement and real time monitoring of deforestation, according to the Minister for environment Jose Sarney Filho.
With agriculture causing the most amount of deforestation it is important to explore new methods to monitor its effects, and introduce new and improved practices which help reduce the impact of agriculture on the rainforest.
Modern agriculture in the Amazon rainforest integrates slash and burn techniques to clear the forest for arable farming. This gives a period of rapid growth and productivity with the utilization of fertilizers, but causes the integrity of the soil to breakdown. After the plot has been successfully used for cash crops (coffee, oil palms and rubber) the land is transitioned into a grassland pasture to be used for grazing livestock. This transition requires larger amounts of land due to a) Livestock needing rotational grazing on multiple feeds to rest grasslands and b) other land needed to grow soybean as a supplemental protein feed. Livestock farming compared to arable farming is much more inefficient of land use, but slash and burn renders soil incapable of supporting crops.
Michellazo et al., (2010) found that burning in the Amazon rainforest was causing the re-volatilization of mercury during a controlled slash and burn. The study showed 3.7g to 4.0g ha-1 (logs, branches, leaves and litter) were re-volatilized from burning plant biomass and 1.8g ha-1 in the O-horizon of the soil (surface layer of soil). High enough temperatures are needed for deposited mercury in soils to re-volatilize, this depends on the severity of the forest.
3.1 Implementing sustainable practices into the Agriculture industry
There are a range of alternative sustainable practices which can be implemented to phase out slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon and newer technologies which can be used to monitor deforestation due to agriculture, these are listed below:
- Slash and burn is a quick release of stored Carbon in trees, compared to harvesting the wood for further products. Instead of slash and burn techniques implement a harvesting strategy which will
The adoption of state-of-the-art technologies for monitoring rainforest in real time have proven to be effective, unmanned aerial vehicles or drones are becoming increasingly popular as nature conservation tools (Koh and Wich 2012).
- Hansen, M.C., Potapov, P.V., Moore, R., Hancher, M., Turubanova, S.A., Tyukavina, A., Thau, D., Stehman, S.V., Goetz, S.J., Loveland, T.R., Kommareddy, A., Egorov, A., Chini, L., Justice, C.O., Townshend, J.R.G., 2013. High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change. Science 342, 850–853. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1244693
- Chapman, R.L., 2013. Algae: the world’s most important “plants”—an introduction. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 18, 5–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-010-9255-9
- Sonter, L.J., Herrera, D., Barrett, D.J., Galford, G.L., Moran, C.J., Soares-Filho, B.S., 2017. Mining drives extensive deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Nature Communications 8, 1013. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-017-00557-w
- Fritz, M.M.C., Maxson, P.A., Baumgartner, R.J., 2016. The mercury supply chain, stakeholders and their responsibilities in the quest for mercury-free gold. Resources Policy 50, 177–192. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resourpol.2016.07.007
- Ganguli, P.M., Mason, R.P., Abu-Saba, K.E., Anderson, R.S., Flegal, A.R., 2000. Mercury Speciation in Drainage from the New Idria Mercury Mine, California. Environmental Science & Technology 34, 4773–4779. https://doi.org/10.1021/es991364y
- US EPA, O., 2014. Reducing Mercury Pollution from Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining [WWW Document]. US EPA. URL https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/reducing-mercury-pollution-artisanal-and-small-scale-gold-mining (accessed 11.19.18).
- Koh, L.P., Wich, S.A., 2012. Dawn of Drone Ecology: Low-Cost Autonomous Aerial Vehicles for Conservation. Tropical Conservation Science 5, 121–132. https://doi.org/10.1177/194008291200500202
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