The Virunga National Park in Congo is home to many endangered species, but is now in danger itself. Bitcoin mining brings much-needed revenue to the park. By Christoph Bergmann
Virunga National Park is the largest national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It covers 7,835 square kilometers and is home to thousands of rare and endangered species, including the impressive mountain gorilla. Its forest is also part of the Congolese virgin forest, the second largest rainforest on earth. This national park should be preserved for the sake of biodiversity. But recently the park, founded in 1925, has come under financial pressure.
Firstly, refugees, rebels and militias are gathering on its territory. They illegally cut trees, poach elephants and mine rare minerals. This makes the work of the park rangers enormously dangerous; on average, one ranger is murdered per month.
Secondly, there is a lack of money. The park is financed almost exclusively by tourism and donations. But because of the many kidnappings, the number of tourists plunged in 2018. In 2019 Ebola blocked tourism, in 2020 and 2021 Covid 19. As a result, the national park lacked 40 percent of its budget for four years.
At the same time, the government announced plans to auction off oil wells in and around the park. If this happens, forests will be cleared and wildlife areas destroyed. Since 2001, it has already lost about 10 percent of its forest area, and estimates indicate that $170 million worth of timber and ivory is looted each year. To survive, the park needs one thing above all else: money.
Since 2013, three hydropower plants have been built in and around the park, at Matebe, Mutwanga and Luviro, with a fourth in the planning stages. These are intended to prevent overexploitation, because if you have electricity, you don’t need wood to cook, and if the energy creates jobs, you don’t have to poach.
Electricity flows, but the distribution network is only rudimentary. So the dams produce a surplus of emission-free electricity, while the park itself suffers from a shortage of cash. The solution is obvious.
Park director Emmanuel De Merode and his colleagues have decided to invest $200,000 to connect Bitcoin miners to the power plants. A French entrepreneur, Sebastien Gouspillou, founder of Big Blocks Green Services, helped implement the plan.
Miner operations began in late 2020, and thousands of Asics now work in and around the park. Seventy percent of the miners are owned by Big Block Green Services, and 30 percent by the national park. In 2021 alone, De Merode estimates, the park made about $500,000 by Bitcoin mining.
On top of that money, there was about $1.2 million in proceeds from NFTs under the CyberKongz project, for which the park had partnered with Christie’s. Some of those proceeds went back into new mining equipment.
“That’s what got us through Covid,” De Merode says. His Virunga National Park is a good example of how Bitcoin is creating environmental benefits.