WPY 2014

Photograph Details

Finalist 2014

World in our Hands

Charlie Hamilton James, United Kingdom

Filthy riches

Charlie was in Peru to make a TV series about the problems associated with clandestine gold mining in the Amazon rainforest. Gold mining in the region is increasing at a more rapid pace than previously thought. Charlie wanted to see the full extent for himself. He took a flight over an area of forest not far from the Peruvian town of Puerto Maldonado. The mined landscape was ‘devastated’ he says. Part of the problem is the vast quantity of mercury, used to concentrate gold during the mining process, which bleeds into the river. This causes significant damage to the environment and the local people, many of whom have five times the safe limit of mercury in their bodies. Gold mining is closely linked to gold prices – as the price of gold drops the rate of mining increases. Since the global economic recession in 2008 the cost of gold has fallen steeply, while the average annual rate of forest loss in the Amazon is estimated to have tripled. Most of the gold mined from areas such as Peru ends up in banks – the Bank of England, for example, has an estimated 4,600 tonnes of gold in its vaults.

Technical specification

Canon EOS-1D X + 24–105mm lens; 1/2000 sec at f6.3; polarizing filter; ISO 800.

Puerto Maldonado, Peru : latitude -12.5931, longitude -69.1955 Puerto Maldonado, Peru : latitude -12.5931, longitude -69.1955

Puerto Maldonado, Peru

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Charlie Hamilton James, United Kingdom

Charlie is a National Geographic magazine photographer who specialises in conservation issues with particular interest in Africa and the Amazon.

  • Light path
  • Lookout for lions
  • Treading water
  • Inside job
  • Wild West stand-off
  • Children of the rainforest
  • The beautiful end
  • Big chick check-up
  • Patient care
  • Vultures as individuals
  • Vultures as commodities
  • The last stand