Located in the remote northern Kachin state, Indawgyi lake is Myanmar’s largest freshwater lake and one of the largest in Southeast Asia. It is also considered a high-value conservation area that “provides habitat for 10 globally threatened bird species and is of outstanding value for the conservation of migrating waterbirds”, according to UNESCO .
The UN agency has listed the place as a Man and Biosphere Reserve , and the lake has been part of the Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary since 1999. In February 2014, Myanmar’s Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry submitted a proposal with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to register Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary as an ecological World Heritage Site.
However, despite this recognition, unregulated gold mining is happening in the area and is causing environmental degradation as dumped waste and chemicals have flowed into the stream, according to local villagers . The government has claimed that the activities are not legal but that stopping them is complex due to the region’s security issues. Thus, arrests could only be made with the collaboration of locals and authorities  , the government says, but this rarely happens. The area has been ravaged by an ethnic conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar army that has been running for decades.
UNESCO has also raised concerns regarding the threats “by hydraulic and small-scale gold mining” in the area. According to the international organization, most of the mines are outside of the boundaries of the park but they are located along streams that flow into the lake. Elevated mercury levels and increased sedimentation in the lake have also been documented. According to the Pan Kachin Development Society , mines in the area also use cyanide for the extraction of the gold, that is later released into the waters.
Local conservationists have also raised concerns about illegal logging ravaging forests inside Indawgyi’s wildlife sanctuary  to meet the internal demand for wood for cooking. Thus Flora and Fauna International have collected satellite imagery that shows that logging in the area ramped up between 2015 and 2016 .
However, conservation efforts face resistance because the mines have become an important source of income for some of the local communities. For others, the environmental degradation means that subsistence activities, like fishing, have become harder .
Moreover, as in the jade mines in Hpakan, also in Kachin state, workers in the gold mines are submitted to tough working conditions and need to consume drugs to endure them. Many of them are migrants from other regions of the country .