By Barbara J. Fraser Catholic News Service
PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru (CNS) -- In a small warehouse on the edge of this jungle town, three young men tinker with a system of pumps, hoses and bright blue plastic dishes mounted on metal bars.
They hope the odd-looking apparatus, designed to separate sand from flecks of gold, will reduce the impact of wildcat mining that is fouling rivers and streams in Peru's southeastern Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region, one of the most biologically diverse places in the world.
Richard Villavicencio, 22, pours sediment into a metal chute, and small jets of water force it around spirals cut into the bottom of the dishes. The lighter gold flecks wash into the next dish, leaving the heavier sand behind.
The principle is the same one used by the '49ers who panned for gold during the California Gold Rush.
It is based on a model developed in Canada, but Villavicencio, his brother Walter, 31, and Henry Arbex, 33, are working with the local office of Caritas Internationalis, the Catholic Church's aid and development agency, to fine-tune the design.