Today, diamonds are the most valuable stones in the world not only because of their beauty, but also because of their utility. Diamonds are not only specifically cut for use in jewelry, but they are also used for special cutting tools like saw blades and drills because the stones are extremely hard and durable. Like everything else in the world, diamonds come with a cost and often times the environment and the people in communities surrounding diamond mines foot the bill.
Diamond Mining Means Destruction
Whether diamond mines are responsibly managed or not, environmental destruction is inevitable and like most types of mines the area surrounding the mine is adversely effected. Most diamond mines are open pit mines requiring the digging of thousands of square meters of land. Some diamond operations are conducted on the beach or offshore, in which case retaining walls are built to protect the mine from waves and tidal fluctuations. In these cases, large quantities of sand and rock (and sometimes coral reefs) are removed from the mine and placed elsewhere.
The Government's Role in Reducing Damage
The results of such mining techniques can be catastrophic is left unmanaged. In many African countries that are rich in diamond reserves, yet poor in the enforcement of mining laws, the open pit mines are left once all the diamonds are extracted and the excavated dirt is left to run off onto farmland and into rivers. In some countries where the diamond industry is regulated more closely there exist reclamation programs that aim to restore lands that have been strip mined. Often times these operations promise to fill in the excavated areas and replant the land with native foliage. However, these operations are not always successful because it often times takes decades for an ecosystem to become established and often times the animals that play a necessary role in the process have been pushed far away from the location in question. Another adverse effect on the environments surrounding diamond mines is related to the local communities that interact with the mines.
Many environmental and civil rights activists are working hard to reduce the occurrence of conflict diamonds in politically unstable countries like Africa. These "blood diamonds," as they are often called, are the result of tribal disputes over land that diamond mining operations became subversively involved in. The diamond mining operations create a situation that allows them to profit from diamond extraction in the disputed area. Many consumers today are becoming more aware of these socio-political issues related to diamond extraction and some diamond certification organizations have been created to track and monitor mining practices around the world.
Finding Responsible Practices
While diamonds are very useful in industrial processes and are incredibly beautiful in jewelry, it is important to keep their environmental side effects in mind. While it is possible to obtain diamonds that are free from political turmoil, it remains challenging to find diamonds that are mined in an environmentally sustainable method. The diamond worth in many African nations is actually decreed by practices that are unsustainable and irresponsible. This will have to change if these nations want to participate in the ever growing market for responsibly mined diamonds.