Guyana pg image

Artisanal gold mining and biodiversity: restoring the balance


  • Malgorzata Stylo
    Associate Programme Officer, Chemicals and Health Branch, United Nations Environment Programme


Pollution, including from the unsound management of chemicals and waste, is one of the key drivers threatening our planet’s biodiversity. 

Informal or poorly regulated artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), often using mercury and operating within or in the vicinity of protected areas, can lead to land degradation and deforestation, the contamination of soil and water bodies, and overuse of forest resources.

In the light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, shifting national priorities might weaken the monitoring and enforcement of environmental policies, causing additional stress on forests and protected ecosystems. Resources provided by the world’s forests are crucial to the survival of 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, as well as human economic and social development and wellbeing.

Similarly, ASGM is crucial to the livelihood of millions of people in over 70 countries, mainly in rural areas with limited alternative economic prospects. ASGM is increasingly recognized as an opportunity to alleviate poverty and contribute to local, national, and regional development. The sector is estimated to provide direct employment for over 16 million people and indirectly support over 100 million people. 

Today as we observe International Day for Biological Diversity in the midst of a pandemic that has gravely impacted so many as well as the ecosystems on which we depend, the rallying cry to “Build Back Better” rings true for the ASGM sector, which has been disrupted by COVID-19 and, with the right support, has the potential to transition to more responsible and clean production methods that at the same time safeguard our planet's biodiversity.

Guyana Miner


To reduce impacts of ASGM on the environment, the GEF-funded planetGOLD programme is proactively seeking to implement win-win solutions that benefit both miners and forests and other land uses. The programme is committed to applying environmental safeguards that integrate a landscape approach into ASGM development to minimize adverse impacts on ecosystems, biodiversity and human health, and at the same time stimulate rural development and human wellbeing.  These efforts complement those of the broader ASGM community that aim to remediate legacy sites and integrate restoration planning into ongoing and future operations.

From the wider ASM community

To learn more about the win-win options for biodiversity-smart ASGM and nature solutions to restore landscapes after mining operations cease, explore the resources below that are featured in our Knowledge Repository:

WB forest

Forest-Smart Mining
Source: World Bank

Minerals and forests are both critical to a sustainable future. However, mining could affect as much as one third of the world’s remaining forests.  The World Bank has adopted a forest-smart mining approach to ensure the best possible outcomes for forests and people who depend on them. Watch the video and read the full report with recommendations for applying forest-smart policies for artisanal and small-scale mining.

wwf asgm

ASM and protected areas
Source: WWF, Estelle Levin Ltd.

This global study reviews the policy responses to ASM operating in protected areas across 36 countries, and offers an initial set of recommendations, including among others negotiated access, introduction of better mining techniques and market-based mechanisms. Accompanying Methodological toolkit aims to assist with identify workable, informed solutions that contribute to long-term development of ASM whilst protecting and safeguarding fragile ecosystems.

Peru PE

Remediation and restoration
Source: Pure Earth, academia

This video and project report showcase the remediation and ecological restoration approach and methodology conducted in the Madre de Dios region in Peru. Focus is placed on developing community-based remediation plans. Other forms of innovative nature solutions are being tested in a small scale, including phytoremediation – a method that proposes using plants to clean up ASGM tailings and prepare ecosystems for the restoration.

Formalization Handbook cover

Formalization in the context of protected areas
Source: UNEP and UNITAR

As part of the wider ASGM formalization guidance, this Handbook presents elements and options to consider while formalizing the sector within a protected areas context. Moreover, it features the efforts undertaken by Peru and Sierra Leone to manage their ASGM sector in biodiversity hotspots.




Do you know of other resources or examples of practices that mitigate ASGM’s impacts on biodiversity and protected ecosystems? Please share them with us in the comments below.

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