Filthy riches

Charlie Hamilton James's Image

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.

Behind the lens

Charlie Hamilton James


Charlie Hamilton James is a wildlife and conservation photographer for National Geographic Magazine. He specialises in stories and issues in South America and East Africa. He has shot 14 stories for National Geographic.

Image details

  • Canon EOS-1D X
  • 24–105mm lens
  • 1/2000 sec at f6.3  •   polarizing filter
  • Puerto Maldonado, Peru
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