Brazil has lifted restrictions on mining for gold in a 17,800-square mile area in the country’s north known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates, thought to contain rich veins of gold, iron, manganese and other minerals.  President Michel Temer signed a decree abolishing protection of the area in order to help his country’s struggling economy.

The government, which has previously said that the region is rich in minerals, gold and iron, framed the decision as an effort to bring new investment and jobs to a country that recently emerged from the longest recession in its history.  The 17,800 square mile area that is now open for mining is twice the size of New Jersey.

Brazil announced a plan in July to revitalize its mining sector, and increase its share of the economy from 4% to 6% by opening 10% of all protected rainforest areas to mining. The industry employs 200,000 people in a country where a record 14 million are out of work.  They have said that mineral extraction would only be allowed in areas where there are no conservation controls or indigenous lands.

The move comes amid signs that deforestation in the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest and home to one-in-ten of Earth’s species, has accelerated.  World Wildlife Fund Brazil warned that deforestation would result, along with a loss of biodiversity and water resources. It said that even areas that remain under formal protection are at risk.

Deforestation and mining are destroying the rainforest at a stunning rate. The Rainforest Foundation estimates that about 1 acre is wiped out every second, and an estimated 20% of the rainforest has been destroyed over the past 40 years.  The Amazon covers 1.2 billion acres and produces 20% of the world’s oxygen.

A major concern arising from deforestation in Brazil is the global effect it produces on climatic change. The rainforests are of vital importance in the carbon dioxide exchange process, and are second only to oceans as the most important sink on the planet to absorb increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide resulting from industry.

Another concern is that over a million species of plants and animals are known to live in the Amazon.  There are also millions of species of plants and animals that are unclassified or unknown.  The rapid process of deforestation of the habitats of the millions of animals and plants that live in the rainforests threatens these species that may face extinction. The deforestation has the effect of reducing a gene pool amongst species meaning that there is less genetic variation that is needed to adapt to climate change in the future.

The Brazilian Amazon is known to possess a vast resource for the treatments of medicines and scientific research conducted to find a cure for major global killers such as AIDS, cancer, and other terminal diseases.