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Iron ore mining in Gandarela Mountain Range, Minas Gerais, Brazil


In the Gandarela Mountain Range, located in the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), Vale aims to produce 24 million tons of iron ore per year, for 17 years. Vale’s project is called Apolo Mine. Gandarela presents the largest and best preserved metallophile savannah (canga ecosystem) of the Iron Quadrangle (the mining region of Minas Gerais). This type of savannah has few remnants in Brazil, as it is generally destroyed by mining. It is an important recharge area for aquifers and, therefore, coincides with great underground water potential, which is important for the formation of river springs and also directed used for public water supply. For this reason, environmentalists even created the term Aquifer Quadrangle to oppose the official name Iron Quadrangle and thus the idea of a regional vocation focused on mining. It is estimated that 80% of the 5 billion m3 reserve of this Aquifer are located under the metallophile savannahs and that 40% of the remaining savannahs in the region are in Gandarela Mountain Range. Therefore, Apollo Mine could damage not only unique attributes of savannah ecosystems, such as the endemic biodiversity and dozens of caves, as well as the availability of water for the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte [1, 2, 4].

Before the beginning of the environmental licensing process of the Apollo mine in 2009, residents of the region, social movements and researchers prepared a proposal for the creation of the Gandarela Mountain Range National Park. The proposal was based on studies by researchers from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the Federal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP) and sent to the Chico Mendes Institute of Biodiversity (ICMBio) [3]. In October 2010, ICMBio, in response to this demands, finalized the project of the Park, emphasizing the importance of fauna, flora and water resources of the area intended for the mine. For example, more than 1,000 springs identified could be severely affected by mining. The proposed area for the Gandarela Park was 38,210 hectares, of which approximately 3,580 hectares corresponded to the savannahs [1]. The ICMBio proposal of creating the Park in the same territory required for mining paralyzed the environmental licensing process of Apollo Mine at the end of 2010 [3].

At the same time, movements opposing the implementation of the Apollo Mine, such as the Movement for the Preservation of Gandarela Mountain Range and the Movement of Mountain Ranges and Waters of Mines, organized several actions, such as denunciations and petitions to the State Public Prosecutor. Also, they organized an event in April 2010, called the "Viva Gandarela!", to call attention for the impacts of the Apolo Project and for the importance and relevance of the Gandarela Park creation. The event included an ecological walk followed by a hug to the Gandarela Mountain Range [3].

However, the course of the political negotiations around the creation of the Serra do Gandarela National Park changed significantly the initial proposal of ICMBio. While the ICMBio recommended the creation of the Park with an emphasis on conservation of the canga geosystem, the Apollo Project aimed to install the mine on a significant portion of these areas, since under the cangas would be the largest part of the iron ore deposit of Gandarela.

In face of these conflicts between Vale and the defenders of Gandarela Park, two Working Groups were created by the Secretary of State for the Environment and Sustainable Development of Minas Gerais (SEMAD/MG) in 2011 to prepare a consensual proposal, by ICMBio and SEMAD/MG, aiming the conservation of the Gandarela Mountain Range. Between November 2011 and February 2012, meetings of the Working Groups were held. Among the participants were representatives of SEMAD/MG, ICMBio, IBAMA, Vale, prefectures of Santa Bárbara and Raposos, Instituto Guaicuy -S.O.S. Rio das Velhas, the Cultural and Environmental Artistic Movement of Caeté, the Pro-Citizenship Institute, the Mining Association of Environmental Defense and the Mineral Industry Union of the State of Minas Gerais. Vale submitted a proposal to cut the Park, expanding the area dedicated to the Apollo Mine and reducing more than twice the area of protected cangas, which was considered unacceptable by ICMBio. The mine was included in the proposal made by the Working Group, but with a significantly smaller extension than that demanded by Vale. This proposal was based on an arrangement between ICMBio and SEMAD/MG, who agreed to reduce the area of the Park to 35,000 hectares – compared to the approximately 38,000 hectares of the original proposal [3].

However, in early 2013, according to the environmental analyst of ICMBio and participant in the process of creating the Park, João Madeira, the proposal was sent to the Ministry of the Environment and the most interested in the creation of the Park could no longer participate of the negotiations – including ICMBio technicians, who knew the details of the process, were left out of the moments of important decisions. This explains the results of negotiations around the boundaries of the Gandarela National Park, created by Decree on October 13, 2014. The area stipulated for the Park (31,270.83 hectares) was quite close to what had been demanded by Vale in the Working Group (30,293 hectares), although the contours were not exactly the same. These were, however, much more diverse than the initial ICMBio proposal or even the resulting agreement of the Working Group, since important areas of canga were excluded - precisely the areas of interest for the implementation of the Apollo Mine [5].

In response to the Decree, the Movement for the Preservation of Gandarela Mountain Range and other entities wrote the letter "National Park created does not protect the mountain range and the waters of Gandarela", criticizing the contours established for the Park. While Vale continues with the licensing process, these movements remain to oppose mining in Gandarela [6].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Iron ore mining in Gandarela Mountain Range, Minas Gerais, Brazil
State or province:Minas Gerais State
Location of conflict:Caeté, Santa Bárbara, Raposos and Rio Acima
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Mineral ore exploration
Water access rights and entitlements
Specific commodities:Iron ore

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Apolo Mine is prospecting to produce 24 million tonnes of iron ore per year. The project includes: plant, waste dumps (315 hectares), rail spur with 22 kilometers long and the construction of a tailings dam (344 hectares).

Project area:1728
Level of Investment:2,100,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:5,000,000
Start of the conflict:2009
Company names or state enterprises:Vale (Vale) from Brazil - formerly named Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (Brazil)
Relevant government actors:MMA , ICMBio , SEMAD , SUPRAM-CM , MPE , MPF
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Movement for the Preservation of Gandarela Mountain Range, MovSAM - Movement of Mountain Ranges and Waters of Minas, Manuelzão Project, MACACA (cultural, artistic and environmental Movement of Caeté)

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Mine tailing spills, Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsDestruction of caves
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsThreat to water supply of city of Belo Horizonte


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Development of alternatives:Creation of a National Park
Community-based tourism
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The Serra do Gandarela National Park was created, but the established contours were more in the interest of mining than of the movements that stood for its creation. These argue that the contours do not guarantee the preservation of the biodiversity, the springs and the capacity of recharge of aquifers.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[7] Drecreto - Cria o Parque Nacional da Serra do Gandarela, 13 de outubro de 2014

Lei No 9,985, 18 de julho de 2000. Institui o Sistema Nacional de Unidades de Conservação da Natureza e dá outras providências.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Gesta-UFMG. Environmental Conflicts Map of Minas Gerais/Brazil.

[3] COELHO-DE-SOUZA, C.H. O “Espaço da Resistência” na Serra do Gandarela: Instrumentos, Contraposições e a Necessária Utopia. 2015. 374 f. Tese (Doutorado em Arquitetura post mortem) – Escola de Arquitetura, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, 2015.

[4] LAMOUNIER, W.L.; CARVALHO, V.L.M.; SALGADO, A.A.R. Serra do Gandarela: possibilidades de ampliação das unidades de conservação no Quadrilátero Ferrífero – MG. Revista do Departamento de Geografia – USP, v.22, p. 171-192, 2011.

[1] ICMBIO. Proposta de Criação do Parque Nacional da Serra do Gandarela. Belo Horizonte: IMCBio, 2010.

Ejolt. The resistance against the giant Vale mining company is growing worldwide. Carolina H. Coelho-de-Souza. 15 abr 2013.

[2] CARMO, F.F. Importância ambiental e estado de conservação dos ecossistemas de cangas no Quadrilátero Ferrífero e proposta de áreas-alvo para a investigação e proteção da biodiversidade em Minas Gerais. Dissertação (Mestrado em Ecologia, Conservação e Manejo da Vida Silvestre) – Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, 2010.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[5] MADEIRA, J. Criação do Parna Gandarela perdeu a chance de ser modelo. ((o)) eco. Associação O Eco.16 out. 2014.

[6] MPSG. Movimento pela Preservação da Serra do Gandarela. Parque Nacional criado não protege a Serra e as águas do Gandarela. Manifesto. 16 out. 2014.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Images from Gandarela

[3] COELHO-DE-SOUZA, C.H. O “Espaço da Resistência” na Serra do Gandarela: Instrumentos, Contraposições e a Necessária Utopia. 2015. 374 f. Tese (Doutorado em Arquitetura post mortem) – Escola de Arquitetura, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, 2015.

Video: Aguas do

The resistance moviment site

Save Gandarela on Vimeo

The petition in English

video: The right to say NO

Other documents

Cascata a 15 KM da cidade de Caeté Robson0002

Cascata – MG Fotografado em 2002

Área preservada, Localizado a 15 KM da cidade de Caeté

– MG

Meta information

Contributor:Andréa Zhouri /Carolina Hermann C de Souza (updated by Beatriz Saes)
Last update12/02/2019



View on the Gandarela Mountain Range, Brazil


Cascata a 15 KM da cidade de Caeté

Robson0002 Cascata – MG Fotografado em 2002 Área preservada, Localizado a 15 KM da cidade de Caeté – MG