Better Without Mercury - 2020 Year End Update!

artisanal mining development environmental issues gold mining rolberto alvarez Dec 18, 2020

The lab results are in. Good news! Mercury-free!

No more mercury was found in the targeted clean-up area and the containment site is stable. WhooHoo!

Look at what a small group of dedicated individuals can do! You were critical in making this happen! Thank you!

Rolberto Alvarez, legal representative of the Asociación Agrominera de los Andes Fortaleza, is proud of what he and his colleagues have accomplished and he should be. This kind of leadership and environmental stewardship is rare among miners in Colombia especially during the current gold rush driven largely by increased financial uncertainty and in some cases desperation.

“In recent years, small-scale mining has ceased to be the exclusive work of miners. I remember that I could count the mines in my region on the fingers of one hand and we knew the owners, their workers and many more. But the situation has changed drastically and today since the mining boom any individual considers himself a miner, many people and families move to the mountains and other areas, which in many cases are unexplored territories, where they establish their own mining establishments, driven by a bonanza that in most cases is transitory.”

If you are in a position to make an end-of-year, tax deductible donation to support la Fortaleza’s efforts in 2021, your gift will b greatly appreciated and put to efficient use!

Keep reading to see what the miners have planned.


Earlier this year we shared photos of the rehabilitation process of the contaminated area. You won’t believe how it looks now.

These two videos show the attention to detail and pride the miners have for all they have accomplished and their commitment to best practices.

You’ll see in Video 1 - where Rolberto gives you a tour of the new face of the once contaminated area - that it is all in Spanish! Love it, but it would reach even more people if it were translate into English! We are looking for a volunteer to help us do just that! Interested? Send an email to [email protected]

Video 1

In Video 2, you get to see the careful collection of native plants to continue the reforestation process. This video was directed by Rolberto Alvarez, translated by Cecilia Echeverri-Velasco, with film editing by Kimberley Bicknell. Thanks for donating your time and skills!

Video 2


The dream of a field school for responsible mining practices

La Fortaleza is continuing to pursue its mission to create a field school for responsible mining on their concession. During a period of time (August, 2020), they did allow a few people to visit the mine and learn more about the mercury clean-up effort, remediation efforts, and to see the progress with their own eyes. The amount of interest is encouraging to Rolberto and his colleagues that there will be local support for the field school. They need to build restrooms capable of handling visitors and areas to gather.

Ongoing cultivation of native plants and trees and raising ducks, geese, and fish

To continue restoring the remediated area takes time, resources and vision. The members of la Fortaleza have the skills, local knowledge, time and vision, what would help them are additional resources. They are carefully and responsibly harvesting local plants. WATCH HERE. High priority projects include:

Further improvement of the mine’s ecological trails

Creating didactic displays that identify and explain the biological features in the project area.

Fairmined Certification Plans

La Fortaleza finally has a business bank account again after a year of effort. This means that they can now sell formally to the international community. The Gualconda mine produces small but consistent quantities of gold and to achieve optimal economic benefit from their yield. Their goal is to be audited against the Fairmined standard in the first quarter of 2021.

A big cost facing la Fortaleza today is Fairmined certification. They are close, but additional funds would make the fees (external audit) more feasible. They have already been implementing austerity measures during COVID-19 and fortunately, donations have helped the miners to stay safe at the mine by limiting interactions with the broader community.

The follow-up mercury testing was completed last month (Nov. 2020) by researchers with the organization Pure Earth. They re-visited the Gualconda mine to test the clean-up area for residual mercury contamination and the results were heartening. No mercury!


Here’s to a NEW YEAR!!!

Take good care,

Rolberto and Christina

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