Flying above the Tambopata River in a single-engine Cessna turboprop, the panorama is desolate. Jungle rivers are ripped open into a delta of sand dunes and stagnant, discoloured ponds. Ant-sized bulldozers roll down mud paths on the soggy moonscape dotted with glinting corrugated iron rooftops.
Amid the roar of the propellers, Cesar Ascorra eagerly points to a cluster of newly planted saplings in the sand. They are evenly spaced, like a polka dot pattern, but the area they cover is dwarfed by the swathe of destruction carved by illegal gold miners.
“It’s a start,” says Ascorra. “We’ve reforested 42 hectares (104 acres) of land deforested by illegal gold mining,” he says.
The amount, so far, may seem like a proverbial grain of sand in a desert of carnage. In this region of south-eastern Peru, there was more deforestation last year than ever: 9,860 hectares or 38% of the total amount. Since 1985, the uncontrolled alluvial mining has destroyed nearly 100,000 hectares of rainforest, according to the CINCIA Amazon research institution.
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