Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Sapphire Mining in Ilakaka-Sakaraha, Madagascar


A parcel of sapphire and chrysoberyl from the Ilakaka-Sakaraha deposit in southern Madagascar.
The Ilakaka-Sakaraha deposit in Madagascar is probably the world’s largest sapphire producer over the past 13 years.

The first discovery was in 1998, near Ilakaka Be. Locals quickly established a thriving market with Thai and Malagasy merchants. Within months, miners from around the island settled near the bridge on the Ilakaka River, and a boomtown was born. Ilakaka is a much quieter place today. Tourists regularly stop there, while Sri Lankan, Thai, and Malagasy gem traders still conduct business.

(click to enlarge)
The deposit extends about 120 km east from Anena to Anakondro, and nearly 100 km north from Anena to Antaralava.
In the Taheza basin the sapphire-rich gravels are usually about 30 meters deep, but some artisanal miners use a 50-meter vertical shaft to reach the gravels, which are mined by digging narrow horizontal tunnels. For the digger to breathe, air has to be sent underground using large plastic bags and tubes. The gravels are extracted and taken to the river for washing.
Overall, mining and trading around Ilakaka is down from previous years. But with 10,000–20,000 miners and several hundred buyers, Ilakaka-Sakaraha probably still surpasses Ratnapura and Elahera in Sri Lanka as the world’s main source for blue and pink sapphires.

From April to July 2012, many of the buyers and miners left Ilakaka to work in the jungle near Didy and Ambatondrazaka, where fine rubies and sapphires were discovered in March 2012.