Surrounded by GREEN,

but rooted in GOLD.

GOLD MINING HISTORY

LOS OREROS DE OSA

Today, the Osa Peninsula is world-renowned for its extensive biodiversity, however, not too long ago, the landscape was notorious not for its lush greenery, but an entirely different color altogether: gold. 

 

For years, dating back to the early 1500’s, there has been much speculation that the Caribbean and Costa Rica in particular were laden with gold and other riches.   In 1502, Christopher Columbus became the first European to cross the Atlantic on his fourth and final voyage and settle in what is now considered the Limón region on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.  During his explorations, Columbus was most impressed by the ornate gold jewelry worn by the indigenous people who inhabited the area.  It was this discovery in addition to the dense natural landscape that many historians believe led Columbus to coin the country’s name Costa Rica or “Rich Coast” as it translates in English. 

 

Yet, despite early speculation of the potential riches to be unearthed in this previously unchartered territory, gold was not discovered in Costa Rica until more than 300 years following the Spaniards’ arrival in the region. Unlike other Central and South American countries such as Mexico, Bolivia and Peru which were exploited as precious metal providers during this colonial period, Costa Rica primarily sustained its economy through agriculture.  Large-scale gold mining didn’t begin until the 1820’s, though it soon declined shortly after in the 1840’s. It wasn’t until the 1930’s when gold was discovered on the Osa Peninsula that the industry was later revived, spurring gold fever to sweep the country once again. 

 

For many years, Osa was considered “el lugar indeseado,” or “the undesired place” as it translates in English, due to it’s intense untouched landscape and lack of inhabitants.  However, with the discovery of gold in the region, a great migration to the Peninsula ensued as many fortune seekers flocked to the area with hopes of striking it big mining for gold. Many of those who migrated to the area were non-conformist refugees from other Caribbean nations seeking refuge from the tyrannical rule of their national governments along with former banana plantation workers from the Limón region seeking work following the closing of many of the United Fruit Company plantations during this time.

 

The Peninsula was one of Costa Rica’s largest gold-bearing regions until the late 1980’s and was known for producing exceptionally high-grade natural gold with a purity above 21 carats, considered to be very high for natural gold deposits and some of the purist found in all of Central America.   As a result, throughout this “gold rush period,” the region experienced a large economic boom fueled by artisanal gold prospecting. Unlike other gold mining zones of Costa Rica, however, Osa was unique in that gold was not only abundant in the mountainous regions but also littered river banks throughout the Peninsula in sedimentary form.  Sedimentary gold, in contrast to larger gold nuggets, can be extracted in an artisanal process known as gold panning, a labor intensive method that utilizes a sieve or gold pan to separate the precious metal out of sand and gravel.  This artisanal form of mining was the primary method adopted by many of the local gold miners, known locally here in Spanish as “oreros”.

 

The community of Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre was one of the major gold mining communities settled on the Peninsula due to its location positioned between the two arms of the Tigre River and on the outskirts of the mountainous jungle landscape of what is now Corcovado National Park.  During this time, the Tigre River was said to be one of the rivers with the largest concentration of naturally occurring gold deposits in all of Osa.  As a result, for many years the primary economic activity of the families who settled here was artisanal gold mining.  Yet, due to speculation of the abundance of gold to be found in the area, along with these artisanal gold miners came extensive foreign commercial mining operations.  Unlike the practices of artisanal gold miners, however, the operations of mining firms utilized extensive machinery to extract gold.  Due to the nature of these commercial practices, these large scale operations had a dramatic impact on the surrounding area, reshaping much of the formerly untouched landscape of the Peninsula.  This not only resulted in the destruction of many wildlife habitats in the region, which consequently caused many species to become endangered, but also had a significant environmental impact as a result of deforestation and landslides which altered forest lighting and effected local temperatures.

 

In response to this extensive environmental damage, in 1975 then President Daniel Oduber established Corcovado National Park, a protected conservation territory of the Osa Peninsula that spans nearly 1/3 of the region’s terrestrial landscape.  With the formation of this protected territory came significant government effort to eradicate any extractive activities within the park's limits and, by the early 1980’s, the government completely banned gold prospecting in all forms and began to heavily enforce these regulations within this restricted territory.  While this legislation improved environmental conditions in the long run, for many locals, the immediate impact was overwhelmingly negative, resulting in widespread unemployment.  Dos Brazos was one of the communities most effected by this new regulation, as many locals were prohibited from practicing the primary activities that enabled them to generate income to support their families for so many years. 

 

Since then, the community has been working extensively to recover from this devastation to the local economy, looking to pivot towards activities that embrace the movement to protect the vast ecosystems endemic to the region.  In 2004, the community formed ACODOBRARTI, a non profit conservation association dedicated to the protection of the flora and fauna of Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre and the surrounding communities of the Osa Peninsula.  The association has served as a primary catalyst in realizing a shift in local economic activity away from damaging extractive practices in favor of sustainable sources of work that not only seek to safeguard the community’s unique natural landscape, but also depend on it.  Much of ACODOBRARTI’s success in this regard can be attributed to the emphasis on implementing change through an educational approach, focusing to not only transform community behavior, but more enduring, transform the community’s mentality with regard to conservation and the need for it.  In February 2015, ACODOBRARTI opened its first entrance into Corcovado National Park and today the community has 25 nationally certified park guides who offer tours throughout the Peninsula.  For more information on ACODOBRARTI's continued efforts in conservation, check out our "Conservation Programs" page! 

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