The Shocking Environmental Impact of Diamond Mining

If you’ve ever purchased a piece of fine jewelry, did you consider the devastating environmental impact of diamond mining? 

Here, we discuss the most common diamond mining methods, their environmental impact, and how ethical diamond solutions provide safe, sustainable conditions for workers and their communities.

How Are Diamonds Mined?

The only way to retrieve diamonds is through extraction. Unlike many other types of mining, diamond mining doesn’t use chemicals (e.g. gold cyanidation). So while there tends to be less obvious environmental harm, that doesn’t mean that the four diamond mining processes are without risks:

1. Open Pit Mining

Layers of earth and rock are first removed and the ore beneath is blasted to allow for removal. The rough material is loaded onto trucks and transported to an industrial crusher.

2. Underground Mining

Also known as “hard rock mining”, two levels of tunnels are dug deep into the earth’s crust and connected by funnels. When ore is blasted in the first tunnel, it falls and lands in the second. It is then picked up by hand and brought to the surface.

3. Marine Diamond Mining

Among the newest in mining developments, marine diamond mining attaches crawlers to ships to gather seabed gravel that is later processed. Obviously, this only occurs in countries with ocean access. Namibia is currently the leader in this mining process.

4. Alluvial (Artisanal) Mining

Alluvial diamonds are often found in widely-spread deposits, making it nearly impossible to mine them industrially. Therefore, small-scale diamond extraction is typically done by hand – and often without regulation.

Is Diamond Mining Bad for the Environment?

As the demand continues to rise, diamond mining moves towards faraway destinations. Previously unspoiled areas experience soil erosion, deforestation, forced migration, and animal species endangerment.

Changes the Course of Waterways

When mining companies build dams to reveal riches beneath riverbeds, it literally changes the course of rivers. This move destabilizes entire ecosystems that animals and people (especially farmers) have relied on for millennia. When water disappears, they must look elsewhere for survival and sustenance.

Pollutes and Poisons Water Supplies

Water-scarce countries face polluted rivers and lakes long after mining operations end. In Zimbabwe, there have been reports of livestock deaths and human ailments along the Odzi River. Environmentalists believe that ferrosilicon (a toxic substance) is released via dense medium separation processes.

Affects the Health of Local Communities

Open-pit mining is easily the most threatening of mining strategies. Once-fertile farmland is stripped of its topsoil and diamond supplies are exhausted, leaving behind inhospitable pits. Stagnant water is the perfect breeding ground for waterborne viruses, parasites, and mosquitos, which flourish during wet seasons and create massive health risks for communities.

Diamond Mining Is Dangerous

Mining communities are strongly affected by the dangers of diamond picking. Children are often forced to work in hazardous and abusive conditions, illness can spread quickly among laborers, the threat of cave-ins is omnipresent, and pay is abysmal (typically less than $1 per day).

Why Are So Many Diamonds Unethical?

Out of the top ten diamond producing countries, eight were located in sub-Saharan African nations: Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Rather than contribute to local economies, government corruption and poor enforcement of regulations have led to disastrous crises and wars financed by blood diamonds.

With the right legislation and foresight, these issues could be reduced dramatically. But until necessary implementations are made – on national and international levels – change tends to  lie in the hands of private citizens and NGOs.

How to Support Support Ethical Diamond Mining

Though the diamond industry and international legislation have cracked down on the sourcing and purchase of blood diamonds, there are plenty of loopholes in the Kimberley Process that allow for their trading of them. As a purveyor of ethical diamonds, our founder personally visits each site to ensure fair mining practices, adequate protection (and wages) for workers, and that the community benefits from their hard work.

Work with private gemologists and companies – like Jaume Labro – who can track the entire supply chain, from the mines to their showroom.  When you present your partner with a bespoke engagement ring or another beautiful jewelry piece, shouldn’t it be with an ethical diamond that’s free of negative connotations? 

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