Modern day gold rush

by EMMA BERTENSHAW [email protected]

“There’s gold in them thar hills” they used to say of the California Gold Rush of 1849. Now the Algarve is experiencing a small gold-mineral rush of its own.

While the hills in Monchique are already being targeted by feldspar mining companies (and hotly contested by residents and conservationists), that is not the only resource that has been found in that area and nearby.

It has been reported recently that researchers from mineral companies have been looking into the possibility that the Algarve could have gold deposits, possibly leading to claims for extraction rights.

The idea is actually not so far-fetched, as in ancient Roman times the precious metal was mined across the Algarve region and up towards the Alentejo along with other useful metals such as tin and copper.

An unusual geological feature, unique to Portugal and called the Iberian Pyrite Belt, stretches across the lower part of the country and into Spain.

The rock contains a vast array of mineral wealth which has not yet been measured in its entirety but has certainly attracted attention in the recent economic downturn.

Mining is already an established major industry in the north of Portugal and has been for a long time, with several national and international companies owning rights to excavate all kinds of mineral deposits.

Some companies, such as Felmica, provide raw materials that are used in ceramics and have a large number of industrial and commercial uses. That would be the destination for the feldspar found in the Monchique hills.

In November 2011, the mining giant Colt Resources was granted permission by the Portuguese government to mine for gold in several parts of the country.

In fact, they have just recently confirmed a number of positive deposit sites of the precious metal in their Boa Fé project which stretches across an area in the Alentejo.

The University of the Algarve-UALG has also confirmed microscopic gold deposits in the river border between Portugal and Spain during their geological studies.

Gold is found in rock seams and sometimes in the alluvial deposits of rivers and streams, where they drop to the river bed due to the density of the material.

Alongside gold, companies have also been looking for other similarly valuable mineral deposits such as tungsten.

19th century treasure

Meanwhile, recent news revealed a historic gold hoard has been reclaimed by Spain after a lengthy court battle with the American salvage company that discovered it off the coast of Portugal.

The Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes sank off the coast of Faro during the Battle of Cabo de Santa Maria with the British on October 5, 1804, taking her booty of 17 tonnes gold and silver doubloons with her.

The salvage company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, uncovered the treasure back in 2007, saying that they had found it in international waters and were exempt from any European rights to the treasure.

Following a long legal battle, it was only recently that the federal court in Florida, USA ruled the treasure belonged to Spain after the Spanish claimed the wreck had ‘sovereign immunity’.

Jorge Dezcallar de Mazar, Spain’s ambassador to the United States, said: “This is not money. This is historical heritage.”

Odyssey Marine Exploration was left with a hefty bill of more than $412,000 after the five years it took them to extract and move the find and have seen their company shares take a dive of their own.


New petition against mining

A new petition has recently been created against the feldspar exploration in Monchique, which can be found at this website http://www.spadalma.eu/enmining.html along with an English description of the petition claim.

Led by the environmental protection group A Nossa Terra, a number of residents and visitors to the region have become concerned that a number of quarrying companies applying for permission to excavate feldspar in the hills will have a drastic effect on the natural environment.

The municipality of Monchique is a peaceful refuge for a number of endangered species.

Already with the backing of local residents, municipal council members, politicians and others, A Nossa Terra hopes to reverse the applications and preserve the quality of life.

To sign the petition, a fiscal/passport/residence number is required as well as a valid e-mail address.

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