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Gem Mining: Environmental Costs & Benefits

Came across this website recently discussing the environmental costs of gem mining around the world.  The website features research by Dr Ali and colleagues from the University of Vermont (Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources).

 Gems & the Environment – Balancing Benefits and Costs

One of the case studies is from Madagascar – a powerhouse of gem production but unfortunately, this has come at a price.  These photographs below show some of the consequences of unregulated mining (sourced from Saleem H. Ali, Ph.D., University of Vermont – see link).


The image at left shows a young girl sieving for sapphires directly in the river at Anbondromifehy (Madagascar) – the practice of sieving within the river causes siltation which harms aquatic plants and animals.  The centre photograph shows a degraded area of the Ankarana National Park (Andakorovato region, Madagascar) caused by illegal mining.   The third image (right) shows the effect of sapphire mining on the landscape with deforestation in the Sakaraha – Ilakaka region (north of Antsohamadiro, Madagascar). 

Please see the Gems & the Environment website for more photographs of gem mining around the world as well as an interesting discussion on some of the environmental issues.

Quoting from the website, the research focus is as follows: 

It is hoped that this research will result in direct resources that can be used effectively by communities where mining is taking place to improve their environmental health while securing their livelihoods.  In addition, the research will yield useful tools for policymakers, governments, environmentalists and companies to support sustainable development and promote environmental integrity through artisanal gemstone mining.

It was very heartening to see both Aussie Sapphire and our good friends at Wild Fish Gems mentioned as examples of where miners can extract gems in an environmentally friendly way.  As we have argued before, this issue is a complex one with no easy answers – people at all steps of the supply chain should consider how they can help improve the industry for everyone.  Ideally, we would like to see all miners profit from their hard work so that they can look after their families and the environment in which they operate. 

cheers for now from Andrew and Leah Lane (Aussie Sapphire)