Gold’s Glitter Lures Prospectors in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia

Basri Marzuki


Droves of traditional gold miners have descended with picks, hammers and shovels on the hamlet of Vatutempa, in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province.

They come to this spot in the vicinity of Palu from all corners of Sulawesi and outlying isles, hoping to find traces of the precious gold, hidden in rocks.

A miner can dig up at least five grams (0.17 ounces) of pure gold in a day's work. And, with the price of gold hovering around 300,000 rupiah (U.S. $21), a miner can earn up to 1.5 million rupiah (U.S. $105) a day.

Yet mining and quarrying activities have caused deforestation in the area, which sits within the Taman Hutan Rakyat conservation zone. Roughly 45 hectares (111 acres) of forest have been lost as a result, locals say.

The gold rush has also contaminated area waterways with cyanide and mercury, conservationists warn. Shrimpers in Palu Bay complain that the waters are tainted with these chemicals.

Even though local governments are aware of the environmental hazards caused by traditional mining, both commercial and traditional mining activities are still considered legal. The mining industry brings jobs and reduces crime rates in the area, thus posing a dilemma for policy makers.

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