About one third of the airstrips in the Amazon are inside some protected area

An unprecedented MapBiomas survey identified 2869 airstrips in the biome

In an unprecedented study, MapBiomas identified 2869 airstrips in the Amazon, more than double the number of airstrips contained in ANAC records. According to the geographic coordinates, 804 runways, or 28% of the total, are inside protected areas: 320 (11%) are inside Indigenous Lands and 498 (17%) inside Conservation Units. Up to 5 km away from a mine, or less, 456 of these runways, or 15.8% of the total number of runways, are located. In the interior of Indigenous Lands, this percentage is higher: in the case of the Yanomami Indigenous Land, 33.7% of the tracks are 5 km or less from a mine; in the Kayapó Indigenous Land, this percentage is 34.6%; in the Munduruku Indigenous Land, 80%.

The ranking of the tracks in Indigenous Territories puts the Yanomami (75 tracks), Raposa Serra do Sol (58), Kayapó (26), Munduruku (21), and Xingu Park (21) in the lead. The correlation with the advance of mining in the region is unequivocal: the Indigenous Lands most exploited by mining were the Kayapó, in which 11,542 hectares were taken by mining by 2021, followed by the Munduruku territory, with 4,743 hectares and the Yanomami land, with 1,556 hectares. The data are from the latest MapBiomas survey on garimpo and mining in Brazil. The Conservation Units with the largest number of runways, in turn, are the Tapajós APA (156 runways), the Amaná Flona (53), the Triunfo do Xingu APA (47) and the Paru State Forest (30).

>> Access the document with the mapping of the landing and mining airstrips in the Amazon

The states with the largest number of runways in the Amazon are Mato Grosso (1062 runways), Pará (883), Roraima (218) and Tocantins (205). But the four municipalities with the most runways are in Pará: Itaituba (where 81% of the illegal gold in the country comes from, according to a study by the UFMG in cooperation with the MPF), São Félix Do Xingu, Altamira and Jacareacanga with 255, 86, 83 and 53 runways, respectively. When the tracks are classified by river basin, the list is led by the Tapajós basins (where mining has dyed the waters of Alter do Chão and where studies have already proven mercury contamination of river dwellers upstream), with 658 tracks; Xingu, with 430 tracks; Madeira, with 356 tracks; and Negro, with 254 tracks.

"There is a logistical problem intrinsic to mining, especially within Indigenous Lands and Conservation Units, where there are no major land or river access routes. This requires air access to supply the miners and to transport the illegal production. Whether by helicopters or small planes, illegal airstrips or legal airstrips co-opted by crime, a large part of the Amazonian mining production is done by air. Therefore, identifying these airstrips embedded in the Amazon forest is an essential task to strangle illegal mining," explains Cesar Diniz, PhD in Geology and technical coordinator of the MapBiomas mining mapping. "This database, public and free of charge, of runway locations, whether legal or illegal, within the entire extension of the Amazon biome aims to assist the work of ending clandestine runways and illegal mining," he adds.

In 2021, the Amazon biome concentrated more than 91% of Brazilian garimpo. In the last 10 years, the expansion of the area of mining in Indigenous Lands (ITs) was 625%, jumping from a little more than 3 thousand hectares in 2011, to more than 19 thousand hectares in 2021. In the Conservation Units (UCs), the scenario is no different: the expansion of mined area was 352% in 10 years, jumping from 20 thousand hectares in 2011 to a little over 60 thousand hectares in 2021.

At least 12% (23 thousand hectares) of Brazil's garimpo area is illegal because it is located inside Indigenous Lands or Conservation Units restricted to this activity (Full Protection UCs, RPPN and RESEX) and there is no line in our constitution that allows the existence of garimpos in these areas. To have an idea, this extension (23 thousand hectares) is equivalent to the area of a capital like Recife, in Pernambuco. "The quantity of airstrips and, consequently, of aircrafts in use by the miners, as well as the heavy machinery used in the activity, indicate that the Amazonian mining is no longer artisanal", says Tasso Azevedo, general coordinator of MapBiomas.

The mapping of the airstrips was done by Solved, which also leads the Mining, Aquaculture and Coastal Zone mapping at MapBiomas. It offers a point database (made by X-Y coordinate pairs), which was built by visual interpretation of high resolution images (4 meter resolution - Planet), from monthly mosaics from 2021 and, in its first version, without dissociation between authorized or non-authorized runways. "The survey will be continuously updated and, with each new version, will achieve better spatial refinement and detailing of its metadata, until the delineation of the tracks, regularization status, extent, age of creation, distance to the nearest IT or UC and the main land use or land cover associated with the track, are incorporated into the base," explains César.

"In the early 1990s, the country was able to organize the removal of more than 30,000 miners illegally installed inside Indigenous Lands in the Amazon. It is necessary to repeat this feat, but it is necessary to go further, by sophisticating the capacity to trace the gold production chain, geolocating the heavy machinery that is always used by the mining activity, monitoring in real time the signs of mining expansion in TIs and restricted UCs, and permanently protecting these territories. It is equally important to control the sale of metallic mercury, a substance that is illegal but, nevertheless, widely traded for mining purposes. It will also be necessary to recover degraded ecosystems", Tasso Azevedo recommends.

To view the data, go to: https://plataforma.brasil.mapbiomas.org/pistas-de-pouso