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Gold fever: Zaruma, the town in Ecuador that could be destroyed by the gold under its feet

Illegal gold mines have led to sinkholes opening up in the town of Zaruma (Ecuador). The seams there contain 100 times more gold than the deposits found in the rest of the world.

Illegal gold mines have led to sinkholes opening up in the town of Zaruma. The seams there contain 100 times more gold than the deposits found elsewhere.

The ground under the town of Zaruma, in Ecuador, is full of gold but the very ore that brings riches could lead to it being swallowed by the earth. If you want to find the some of the richest gold deposits in the world, Zaruma is the place to go, but the highly sought after precious metal brings both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it brings prosperity to the local people, but on the other hand, it may cause the very town itself to to collapse.

In this town in southern Ecuador, illegal mining is carried out to collect the gold, practices that weaken the bed rock on which it is built. The illegal miners dig their tunnels in search of the richest gold deposits, but often end up working in the ground under schools, hospitals and houses.

These mines have already led to a serious incident in 2021 that could foreshadow what might happen to the entire town: a sinkhole 88 feet wide and 95 feet deep opened up in the historic center of Zaruma in just one night. In the video you can see a block of houses disappearing into the earth.

The reality is that Zaruma is a true El Dorado, a land of gold, having one of the highest concentrations of the element anywhere in the world. According to data from Bloomberg, most of the world’s gold mines contain between three and five grams of gold per ton of earth and rock. In Zaruma there are seams that contain up to 180 grams per ton, with some small deposits reaching 500 grams of gold per ton.

Why is there so much gold in Zaruma?

The tectonic forces that created the Andes mountain range 20 million years ago produced a torrent of magma that left seams of gold in the rock. The phenomenon is ancient, and so, in human terms, are the attempts to extract it. According to Bloomberg, about 1,500 years ago, gold nuggets began to be extracted from riverbeds.

Attempts have been made to protect the subsoil of the town, but that has only attracted more miners. According to an Interpol statement, illegal gold mining had a turnover of some 48 billion dollars worldwide in 2016.

The ground under the golden town of Zaruma’s is a labyrinth. There is a huge network of tunnels that not even the best experts have a complete grasp of. Iván Núñez, the engineer who has been entrusted with the task of devising a formula to end illegal mining, explains that the situation under the town “is out of control.” Like Midas, a love of gold may be what leads to the downfall of Zaruma.


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