Impacts of Mining Activities on Protected Areas and their Mitigation. Two Cases from Latin America

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2015

18 Pages, Grade: 1.3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Mining - An Overview
2.1 Phases and Forms of mining and interconnected environmental impacts
2.2 Environmental and social conflicts in connection with mining and the relevance for protected areas (PAs)
2.3 General solutions and regulations for mitigation
2.4 Current state of research

3. Case Studies
3.1 The case of the Intag cloud forest region in Ecuador
3.1.1 Overview of the Intag cloud forest region
3.1.2 Mining activities within the Intag region and related environmental and social impacts
3.1.3 Means of mitigation
3.2 The case of the Huascarán National Park in Peru
3.2.1 Overview of the Huascarán National Park
3.2.2 Mining activities within the Huascarán National Park and related environmental and social impacts
3.2.3 Means of mitigation

4. Resume and Conclusion



Figure 1: Connection of Emissions, Atmosphere and Impacts

Figure 2: Global production of aluminum, copper, zinc and iron from 1990 to 2010

Figure 3: Global mining distribution, PAs distribution and overlapping of mining and PAs


Table 1: Probable effects of mining activities on the environment

Table 2: Mitigation measures and examples of action

1. Introduction

Latin America is rich in vulnerable biodiversity of flora and fauna, outstanding landscapes and ecosystems and natural resources. Protected areas (PAs) are a tool for the conservation of land cover and ecosystem services (JOPPA; PFAFF, 2010, p. 1633). But the world demand for natural resources is rising and with it resource extraction and intensive land use (SWENSON et al, 2011, p. 1).

Metal mining activities are one of the biggest threats towards PAs and these activities are steadily increasing (DURÁN et al, 2013, p. 273). Deep environmental and social conflicts are associated with mining activities worldwide and especially in Latin America.

The research question of this paper is: What are potential social and environmental impacts of mining activities on PAs and how can they be mitigated?

The aim of the paper is to figure out important impacts of mining activities on PAs and to highlight possible solutions for mitigation.

In chapter two, which is the key chapter of this work, phases and forms of mining, environmental and social conflicts and the relevance for PAs, general solutions for mitigation and the current state of research will be pointed out.

Subsequently, in chapter three, the two case studies about Latin America, Intag cloud forest region in Ecuador and Huascarán National Park in Peru, will highlight the facts about mining in PAs of chapter two and present problems and solutions in a practical manner.

The last part of this work, chapter four, will conclude the facts which were figured out and compare the two practical case studies regarding to mining impacts and their mitigation.

2. Mining - An Overview

2.1 Phases and Forms of mining and interconnected environmental impacts

There are different phases of a mining project and forms of mining and each phase of mining is linked to different environmental impacts (ELAW, 2010, p. 3).

As a first step, the exploration takes place, where information about the value and location of the mineral will be collected. This step includes surveys, field studies and the drilling of boreholes for testing purposes. In order to allow also the entrance of heavy vehicles, a clearing of big vegetation areas may be involved in this phase (ELAW, 2010, p. 3).

If it can be proven through the exploration phase, that there is a big mineral ore deposit, the development phase of the mine, which includes the construction of access roads, site preparations and clearing of land, will be initiated. These activities also may cause profound environmental impacts, particularly if they are taking place within or bordering ecologically sensitive areas. (ELAW, 2010, pp. 3+4).

According to the ELAW (2010, p. 4) once the exploration and development phases of the mining process are accomplished, the active mining which in other words means: extraction and beneficiation of metals from the earth, can take place. The most common forms of mining will be listed and shortly explained below:

- Open-pit mining : this method is one of the most environmentally destructive forms of mining, particularly in tropical forests, due to the removal of natively vegetated zones in form of tree logging, clear-cutting or burning of vegetation. It is a type of strip mining in which it is necessary to remove layer upon layer of overburden and ore because the ore deposit extends really deep into the ground.

- Placer mining: also called ‘ hydraulic mining ’ because the metal of interest, which shall be removed, usually gold, is located into a streambed or floodplain. This method is also environmentally destructive because it releases large quantities of sediment, which may have an impact to surface water for many miles downstream of the mine.
- Underground mining: using this form of mining, a small amount of overburden is removed in order to gain access to the ore deposit through tunnels or shafts. It is on the one hand less environmentally destructive but on the other hand more expensive and includes higher safety risks than open-pit mining. Many large underground mines are operating around the whole world.
- Reworking of inactive or abandoned mines : this form of mining refers to the reworking of waste piles (tailings) from inactive or abandoned mines by re-extracting metals from mining waste. Here the environmental impacts of open-pit mining and placer mining can be avoided but there will be still environmental impacts due to the purification of metals from the waste. (ELAW, 2010, p. 4)

As per ELAW (2010, pp. 5+6), after and while the active mining takes place, overburden and waste rock, which usually has an enormous quantity, have to be removed in order to reach the metallic ores. Sometimes, these wastes contain alarming levels of toxics, for example cadmium or arsenic. Afterwards the ore extraction phase takes place with the help of heavy equipment and machinery, which again causes environmental impacts, such as dust emissions. During the beneficiation phase the ore will be grinded and the metal will be separated from the non-metallic ore material. Hereby ‘tailings’, which is high-volume waste, will be generated. Hence, one of the central questions, whether a mining project is environmentally acceptable or not is: How does a mining company dispose the toxic waste material? The long-term goal of the disposal of tailings is to prevent the release of toxic parts into the environment (ELAW, 2010, pp. 5+6).

According to ELAW (2010, p. 7), the last phase of mining might be the closure of the site, which sounds rather easy, but many factors have to be taken into account in order to create the condition of ‘pre-mining’. Questions like: how will the release of toxic substances from the mining facilities continuously prevented and financed have to be carefully answered (ELAW, 2010, p. 7).

2.2 Environmental and social conflicts in connection with mining and the relevance for protected areas (PAs)

According to DURÁN et al (2013, pp. 272-277) there is currently both increasing demand and prices for metals worldwide, which increases consequently metal mining activities especially into more remote and currently un-mined areas, often in or close to PAs, which play a major role in biological conservation. According to SONTER et al (2013, p. 6300) the establishment and operation of a mine involves, among others, deforestation, soil displacement, water and energy consumption and development of large industrial infrastructure which have potentially negative environmental effects of biodiversity and the service and function of ecosystems (SONTER et al, 2013, p. 6300). Actually, mining companies cause the most profound and mostly irreversible harms to the natural environment in comparison with other industrial sectors and furthermore have many negative social impacts, inclusively industrial accidents, health and safety issues, among others (MUTTI et al, 2012, p. 212).

Around 7 % of mines for the metals aluminum, copper, iron and zinc have a direct overlap with PAs and 27 % lie within a 10 km area of a PA boundary. Mining activities can affect the environment over big distances with a long durability (even after the mining site was closed, as mentioned before). Hence there is an urgent need of restricting or mitigating these conflicts in order to stabilize or raise the conservation performance of PAs and its biodiversity (DURÁN et al, 2013, p. 272).

Some of these environmental and social conflicts, which can come up will be listed below:

Environmental conflicts:

Water resources: According to ELAW (2010, pp. 8-12) one of a leading impact of mining is the effect on surface- and groundwater quality and water resource availability within the mining area. The quality and availability of water should be secured, on the one hand for human consumption and on the other hand for aquatic life and terrestrial wildlife. One of the most serious threats to the water resources is the acid mine drainage formed by sulfides inside the rocks that are exposed due to metal mining. These sulfides can run uncontrolled into surface water or leach into groundwater.

Air quality: Pollutants, which occur during all phases of mining, especially during exploration, development, construction and operational phases can seriously harm people’s health and the environment. These small pollution particles are easily widespread through the wind. In Figure 1 you can easily see how the emissions enter the atmosphere, undergo physical and chemical changes and last but not least impact the human health, the environment, the global climate, etc. (ELAW, 2010, pp. 8-12).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Connection of Emissions, Atmosphere and Impacts

Source: ELAW, 2010, p 12.

Impacts on flora and fauna: Flora and Fauna is endangered through the removal of vegetation and topsoil, the expulsion of fauna, noise generation and release of pollutants due to a mining project (ELAW, 2010, pp. 13-14). Table 1 shows probable effects of mining activities on the environment.

Table 1: Probable effects of mining activities on the environment

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: DURÁN et al, 2013, p. 276

Social conflicts:

According to ELAW (2010, p. 15) the social impacts of large-scale mining projects are complex and debatable. One the one hand, mining projects may create jobs, a better infrastructure and increase the demand of goods and services in remotely located areas (ELAW, 2010, p. 15). But on the other hand, mining companies cause negative impacts on livelihoods of local communities and offences of human rights (MUTTI et al, 2012, p. 212).

If local communities feel inadequately treated or uncompensated, mining projects can even lead to violent conflicts (ELAW, 2010, p. 15).

Displacement and resettlement: Displacements and resettlements of communities are common social impacts of mining and cause a lot of conflicts. Communities are not only losing their home, but also their land and hence their livelihoods (ELAW, 2010, p. 15).

No access to clean water: As mentioned before one of a leading impact of mining is the effect on surface- and groundwater quality as well as water availability within the mining area (ELAW, 2010, p. 8). Contaminated ground- and surface water can harm the health of the people living in the communities close to mining areas. Due to that, there are many conflicts between the miners and the communities (ELAW, 2010, p. 16).

Effects on livelihoods: All environmental conflicts due to mining projects (some of them have been mentioned before) can be transferred to livelihoods. According to this they are endangered through air pollution, water pollution and degradation, soil pollution, effects on flora and fauna, effects on biodiversity, etc. (ELAW, 2010, p. 16).


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Impacts of Mining Activities on Protected Areas and their Mitigation. Two Cases from Latin America
Humboldt-University of Berlin  (Life Sciences)
Biodiversity and Conservation Management
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ISBN (Book)
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impacts, mining, activities, protected, areas, mitigation, cases, latin, america
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Sarah Schmidt (Author), 2015, Impacts of Mining Activities on Protected Areas and their Mitigation. Two Cases from Latin America, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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