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2015

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the


Amazon River

Angelina Spietz
German European School Singapore
12/1/2015

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River


Table of Contents Page


Contents
1. Introduction.....2
1.2 Overview of the Amazon River...2

1.3 General Issues affecting the river..3

2. Impacts of Gold Mining on the River4


2.1 Impacts of Mercury.4

3. Mitigation and Preventive Strategy..5


4. Summary and Conclusion.5
5. Works Cited6

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River


Introduction | 1
Gold has long-since been a symbol of wealth for many nations across the globe and therefore many
people have started mining for gold near rivers in environments of pristine beauty. These ecosystems
are extremely fragile and are threatened by the new, dangerous industry of gold mining.
This affects the wildlife, local people in many countries and indigenous tribes that live in the rainforest.
These are important topics to cover, because it is vital for the river, all the wildlife and people that
depend on it to raise more attention to this serious problem. However, the Amazon River is home to
many diverse and even endemic species they could all be lost because of gold mining. The river is slowly
dying from pollution, poisoning and many other issues related to gold mining and something needs to
be done to put a stop to gold mining before the river Amazon loses all of its wildlife.
This report will give an overview of the Amazon River Basin and how gold mining is affecting the Amazon
River and all life forms depending on the river for survival. Rivers are one of the fundamental parts of
the ecosystem, because without them our world would be a completely different place. Trees and
animals depend on the water that rivers transport. Rivers also play a massive role in the hydrological
cycle. The Amazon River is a very important source of drinking water for many animals and the local
people. Indigenous tribes such as the Yanomamo also depend on the river for survival to fish and drink.
However, this river is being threatened by various dangers and threats, such as deforestation, fishing
and especially gold mining. This report is also therefore going to cover on what is being done to stop the
problem and what other solutions there might be.

Overview of the Amazon River | 1.2


The Amazon River is probably one of the most well-known
rivers in the world. It is constantly in competition with the
river Nile; in length it is the second largest river in the
world, reaching over 6400km. On the other hand, it is the
largest in water volume, number of tributaries and the size
of its watershed. The Amazon basin is measured to be
approximately two and a half million square miles big and
located in seven countries in South America: Brazil,
Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Guyana.
(Gordienko) as can be seen in Figure 1, which shows the
countries the Amazon River Basin covers incuding the
tributaries and the main river. Like all rivers, it cycles
between the wet season and the dry season. The source is
located in the Andes Mountains, more specifically on a
mountain peak called Nevado Mismi in the Peruvian
2

Figure 1 Map of the Amazon River basin (Kmusser)

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River



Andes (Unique Facts South America) and flows all the way into the Atlantic Ocean, where the
discharge amount is 184,000m2 per second during the wet season. This giant river sustains the Amazon
rainforest including all animals and is therefore linked closely together. its biodiversity the richest of
any river in the world. (Amazon River Ecosystem and Biodiversity) and scientists believe that there are
more than 3,000 species of fish (Mittermermeier, et al) with over 2,000 recognized species of fish
that are only found in the Amazon River Basin. (Otorongo Expedition Jungle Blog) It is calculated, that
the Amazon River Basin represents roughly 40% of the entire worlds rainforests, which is sustained by
the Amazon River and therefore also all the wildlife living in it with the main river and its 1,100
tributaries. Therefore it is a great source of water and a great location to build a city. The largest city
along the Amazon River is Manaus. Located in Brazil it is home to over 1.7 million people. (Science Kids)
However, this river and all the animals and locals depending on the river are being threatened by gold
mining.

General Issues affecting the river | 1.3


A lot of different human actions can lead drastically impact the Amazon River in ways that would
severely damage the ecosystem. Gold mining cause mercury pollution and the extreme deforestation
necessary before the gold is extracted can induce floods and sediment pollution. However, there are
more dangers to the Amazon River than gold mining. Like mentioned previously, deforestation can have
damaging effects on the river. The rainforest is cut down for various reasons, like for agriculture,
housing or simply to retrieve wood. Another issue would be the hydroelectric dams on the Amazon
River. There are several along the river and there are some more projects in process as well. This can
affect fish populations and potential dam breaches are a huge threat. Some other problems affecting
the Amazon River Basin would be oil and gas extraction (WWF Global) which would affect the wildlife
because of habitat loss and also water pollution. The indigenous tribes would also lose some of their
territory and potentially clash with the workers.
Gold mining has become a serious issue for the Amazon River. This problem is mostly located where the
river crosses into Peru. There a lot of people live in poor living conditions and go to the river to mine for
gold, looking to find a way out of their lives of poverty (Leggett). However, the Amazon in general
seems to have a huge supply of a lot of different minerals, such as copper, tin, nickel, bauxite,
manganese, iron ore and gold (WWF), therefore this would really benefit the governments exporting
these minerals to other countries to produce more technology and devices. Different governments are
supporting these mining projects by providing tax incentive for large-scale projects, in order to boost
development (WWF). However, gold mining is proving to impact the river and people depending on it
in many ways. In order to extract the gold from the river, miners use chemical called mercury.



3

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River




Impacts of Gold Mining on the River 2


This is a toxic chemical that which is polluting the river because run-off water from the mines contains it.
According to a report Peru's informal miners combine to release 30 tons of mercury into the countrys
rivers and lakes every year. (Toor) Mercury affects the nervous system of any living thing and the
foetuses. The mercury is then absorbed by the aquatic life such as fish and eels, which in turn are then
fished and caught by local fishermen. This dangerous chemical has a wide-reaching affect, because it will
also affect the people and locals eating the fish.

Impacts of Mercury 2.1


A study about the impacts of the gold mining companies investigated the mercury levels at different
points in the river and also the local population of Madre de Dios in Peru. In order to measure the
mercury levels in a human, it is necessary to take a piece of their hair and these are the results:
Children in Madre de Dios were found to have mercury levels that were, on average, five times higher
than the limit considered safe by the World Health Organization [WHO]; some locals' mercury levels
were as high as 34 times that limit. (Toor) The data was gathered from 25 different communities that
are around the Madre de Dios inn 2012. The locals had increased mercury levels because of the fish they
catch and then consume. Most of the common fish that the locals rely on for survival have absorbed the
dumped mercury from the water. The mercury levels in the fish have increased in 10 out of 11 fish
species studied in 2009 and then again in 2012. The fish, such as doncella, zungaro and dorado, were the
most commonly consumed in the area. (Collyns) The mercury, which was dumped into the river, would
settle at the bottom and be converted after some time into a different form called Methylmercury. This
form can then be absorbed by organisms and is then in turn passed on along the food chain. These
extremely high mercury levels can lead to mercury poisoning and affect an entire population.
Unfortunately, children are the most threatened by
mercury poisoning.
However, gold mining is not only affecting the river with
chemicals; the method to mine the gold has a serious
impact on the river. It is estimated that miners are
cutting away around 15,000 acres of rainforest per year.
This will also affect the river because the roots of trees
are holding the soil together and after a heavy rainfall it
is all washed into the river and induce sediment
pollution as can be seen from Figure 2 on the left.

Figure 2 Barren fields leading to sediment pollution in the river


Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River



Humans and animals that rely on the river as a source of water will have less drinkable water. Drinking
from polluted water can make the animal or human ill because of the mud and soil that is now floating
in solution in the water and is not filtered out of the water. Rainforest animals and indigenous tribes
that drink the water might also suffer from mercury poisoning that will have several dangerous effects
on living things.
Another factor to consider is that gold mining can affect social factors, such as the indigenous tribes
which live in the rainforest called Yanomamo. There will be some time in the near future or present time
right now, when gold miners would also extract gold from places, where indigenous tribes have settled
and therefore take away their land. There have even been reports of conflicts occurring already
between gold miners and Yanomamo tribes. In Brazils state of Roraima, conflicts have flared up
between the indigenous Yanomamo Indians and gold prospectors, and the government had to step in
with military intervention to evict miners from Indian lands (WWF Global)

Mitigation and preventive measures | 3


As mentioned in the Overview of the Amazon River, thousands of species of fish live in this river, many
of them are endemic, and also wildlife that lives in the rainforest depend on the river as a source of
water and food. These are being threatened by issues such as gold mining and are in danger of
becoming extinct. Therefore the governments have tried to stop the gold mining, not only for
environmental reasons though. Most of the gold mining is done illegally, because they operate without
permits or government oversight. Instead, they work under the control of a small group of so-called
"gold lords," who obtained land rights, or concessions, from regional administrators. (Toor). Therefore
many small mining sites have sprung up over the years, which the government of Peru is trying to stop.
The government has imposed harsher punishments against illegal gold mining and also started
destroying thousands of mines located near protected areas (Toor); however there are many more
gold mines still to be shut down. The government is also meeting resistance from the supposed gold
lords because they potentially control regional governments through bribery and corruption. (Toor)
Another river management strategy would be to gather more evidence about the gold mining sites. In
order to take action about the gold mining, the government would need concrete evidence about the
gold mining sites and what kind of impact they would have on the river ecosystem. More studies need
to be made about the dangers and effects of gold mining at the
river. Monitoring the state of the river water and the health of
the wildlife would also be very helpful in collecting more data
to bring issues like these to the attention of the government
officials.
Another mitigation strategy would be to conduct an
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Every time a company
wants to launch a mining project, it is important that an EIA is
Figure 3 The dam breach in Brazil (Jaramillo)

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River



done of the project to lessen the damage of gold mining. Mining sites also should be checked regularly
to control the environmental damage and see if everything is safe. If the site is not checked properly,
accidents may happen, like the recent dam breach at an iron ore mine in south-eastern Brazil
(Jaramillo) The aftermaths of this dam breach can be seen in figure 3.

Summary and Conclusion | 4


In conclusion, the Amazon River has the richest biodiversity than other rivers in the world; unfortunately
it is being threatened, as was mentioned several times in the previous parts of this report. Not only
animals depend on the river, also humans need the river for water, as well as because it is important for
the ecosystem itself. The Amazon River suffers from many threats, like dams, deforestation, pollution,
agriculture and most importantly gold mining. Gold mining uses a toxic chemical called mercury, that
can have deadly effects on any living things. The mercury is then leaked into the river and absorbed by
fish, which the locals, tribes and animals would then catch and eat. This could then in turn cause some
serious health issues for the consumer. Gold mining also causes sediment pollution and extreme
deforestation, which can have long-lasting effects on the ecosystem. These human impacts do not just
affect humans and indigenous tribes; they also affect wildlife and nature itself. The ecosystem is
constantly in a state of equilibrium; everything is in balance. Humans, however, are destroying this
fragile system by cutting down trees, adding chemicals and polluting the river. Luckily, there is some
action being taken right now to stop these gold miners from disrupting the ecosystem any further.
Governments in Peru have enforced harsher punishments upon illegal gold miners and also started
destroying the mining sites. Gathering more evidence about gold mining and its effects on the
environment would also help to bring the governments officials attention to this problem. Another way
to help prevent even more environmental damage would be to write a report about this problem, also
known as an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment). Doing regular check-ups on the mining sites will
also help limit the amount of environmental damage. Hopefully the gold mining will either stop or
become more environmentally friendly soon, so that the Amazon River can remain as a home for
humans and many endangered species.

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River



References | 5
Asner, Greg. An area of rainforest cleared for gold mining in the Madre de Dios region of Peru. The
Verge, 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2015; figure 2

Butler, Rhett A. Amazon Fish. Mongabay.com / A Place Out of Time: Tropical Rainforests and the Perils
They Face. 9 January 2006. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
Butler, Rhett. Soil Erosion and its Effects. Mongabay.com. 22 July 2012. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Collyns, Dan. Illegal gold mining exposing Peru's indigenous tribes to mercury poisoning. The Guardian. 9
Sept 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
Gordienko, Elena Chavarria. The Amazon Basin. N.p, n.d. PDF
Jaramillo, Juliana Jimnez. Brazils Mining Dam Disaster Will Bring Years of Irreversible Environmental
Damage. Slate. N.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
Jayne, A. K. What are the pollution issues in the Amazon Rainforest?
http://www.ehow.com/list_7264070_pollution-issues-amazon-rainforest_.html. N.d. Web. 21 Nov.
2015.
Kmusser. This is a map of the Amazon River drainage basin. Digital Chart of the World, 8 Sept. 2008.
Web. 20 Nov. 2015; figure 1
Leggett, Martin. Gold fever is driving Amazon loss and mercury pollution in Peru.
http://www.earthtimes.org/pollution/gold-amazon-loss-mercury-pollution-peru/739/. 19 April. 2015.
Web. 21 Nov. 2015.
N.a. Amazon fish. WWF Global. N.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
N.a. Amazon Mining. WWF Global. N.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2015
N.a. Amazon River. Millenium Tours, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2015; title page
N.a. Amazon River Ecosystem and Biodiversity. http://www.discover-peru.org/peru-geography-amazonriver-ecosystem/. N.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.
N.a. River Facts for Kids - Interesting Facts about the Amazon River.
http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/earth/amazonriver.html., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River



N.a. Endemic Species and Ecological Systems of the Amazon Basin of Peru and Bolivia. Nature Serve. N.d.
Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

N.a. Freshwater fish of the Amazon River. Otorongo Expeditions Amazon Jungle blog . 28 Nov 2012.
Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
N.a. What are the Consequences of Deforestation on the Natural Water Patterns? Environment for
Beginners. N.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.

N.a. Unique Facts South America, The Amazon River.
http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/southamericaweb/factfile/Unique-facts-SouthAmerica2.htm. N.d.
Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Rylands, A. B. et al. Wilderness: Earth's last wild places. Mexico: Mittermeier, 2002. Print
Simon, Cristopher. An aerial picture taken a day after a dam burst in Bento Rodrigues, a village of some
600 people near the Brazilian southeastern city of Mariana in the historic mining region of Minas Gerais.
Slate, 6 Nov, 2015. Web. 6 Dec. 2015; figure 3
Singa2011. This is a logo for German European School Singapore. GESS, 5 Sept. 2012. Web. 28 Nov.
2015; title page
Toor, Amar. Illegal gold is destroying the Amazon. The Verge. 28 Oct 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.



Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River


Research Action Plan


MYP Assessment Criteria B: INVESTIGATION

Limited attempt to / partially / satisfactorily / effectively follows an action plan to investigate a


research question
Uses methods to collect and record limited / some / appropriate / appropriate & varied
information in line with the research question
Limited attempt to / partially / satisfactorily / effectively addresses the research question
Limited / reflection / detailed evaluation of the research process and results.


To help you successfully implement a research action plan you need to follow the steps below:
The main research
question

How does gold mining affect the Amazon River and the animals and humans
depending on it?
This is a very important question to answer and investigate because the
Amazon River is known to be the most animal species diverse river in the world
and it also sustains a large patch of the Amazon rainforest. The animals living in
it rely on the river for a source of water, especially because the river and
rainforest are linked tightly together. A slight change in the river upstream, like
pollution or dams, can dramatically change the river further downstream and
change the life cycles of many animal species and humans for worse.

Sub questions
By answering these
sub-questions, you will
enable yourselves to
answer the main
research question.
Check your task sheet
and brainstorm
additional questions
with your group.
Include them all here.


Where is it located?
How long is it?
How many dams are there?
Do humans use it as a source of drinking water?
How is the environment affected from these human activities?
How are humans affecting the environment around and inside the river?
What are the causes of these human activites?
Who is affected by these issues/conflicts?
How can these conflicts/issues be resolved?
What conflicts surround the Amazon river?
How does pollution affect the river?
How does gold mining affect the river?

Methods to be used in Where will you gather the information? (e.g. library)
the investigation
I will probably try to find as much relevant information as possible via the
internet, by refining my search and look for websites that are suitable for

students and trustworthy sites. I might also go to the library to look for
9

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River



e.g. describe the
capture sheet. How
will it be laid out? Will
you include your subquestions? How many
websites will you
access per subquestion? Why?

relevant books on problems related to the Amazon river.


How/where are you going to record any relevant information?
I will be creating a capture sheet, on which I can copy and paste any relevant
information that I can use to answer the question. I will also copy and paste
the link for the research. Then I can reformulate and filter through the present
information and use it to answer the main research question. I think that I
would use two to three different websites or sources to answer one subquestion. I will of course copy and paste the relevant information onto my
capture sheet along with the link of the websites or textbook name and also
write down the date I accessed the information, so that I can make an accurate
works cited list at the end of the project.

Identify the relevant


Please check the Information Literacy Guide to do this correctly. Easybib
sources/evidence that formatting is not appropriate.
you will use
I record the link of websites or names of textbooks on the capture sheet along
Record the works
with the relevant information. I also write down the date I accessed the
information next to the link or name, so that I can make my action plan as
cited.
accurate as possible. I will then cite my sources at the end of the project.
Asner, Greg. An area of rainforest cleared for gold mining in the Madre
de Dios region of Peru. The Verge, 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2015;
figure 2

Butler, Rhett A. Amazon Fish. Mongabay.com / A Place Out of Time: Tropical
Rainforests and the Perils They Face. 9 January 2006. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

Butler, Rhett. Soil Erosion and its Effects. Mongabay.com. 22 July 2012. Web.
27 Nov. 2015.

Collyns, Dan. Illegal gold mining exposing Peru's indigenous tribes to mercury
poisoning. The Guardian. 9 Sept 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Gordienko, Elena Chavarria. The Amazon Basin. N.p, n.d. PDF

Jaramillo, Juliana Jimnez. Brazils Mining Dam Disaster Will Bring Years of
Irreversible Environmental Damage. Slate. N.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

Jayne, A. K. What are the pollution issues in the Amazon Rainforest?
http://www.ehow.com/list_7264070_pollution-issues-amazonrainforest_.html. N.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

Kmusser. This is a map of the Amazon River drainage basin. Digital Chart of the
World, 8 Sept. 2008. Web. 20 Nov. 2015; figure 1

10

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River



Leggett, Martin. Gold fever is driving Amazon loss and mercury pollution in
Peru. http://www.earthtimes.org/pollution/gold-amazon-loss-mercurypollution-peru/739/. 19 April. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

N.a. Amazon fish. WWF Global. N.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

N.a. Amazon Mining. WWF Global. N.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2015

N.a. Amazon River. Millenium Tours, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2015; title page

N.a. Amazon River Ecosystem and Biodiversity. http://www.discoverperu.org/peru-geography-amazon-river-ecosystem/. N.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

N.a. River Facts for Kids - Interesting Facts about the Amazon River.

http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/earth/amazonriver.html., n.d.
Web. 18 Nov. 2015.
N.a. Endemic Species and Ecological Systems of the Amazon Basin of
Peru and Bolivia. Nature Serve. N.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

N.a. Freshwater fish of the Amazon River. Otorongo Expeditions Amazon Jungle
blog . 28 Nov 2012. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
N.a. What are the Consequences of Deforestation on the Natural Water
Patterns? Environment for Beginners. N.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.

N.a. Unique Facts South America, The Amazon River.
http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/southamericaweb/factfile/Unique-factsSouthAmerica2.htm. N.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.

Rylands, A. B. et al. Wilderness: Earth's last wild places. Mexico: Mittermeier,
2002. Print

Simon, Cristopher. An aerial picture taken a day after a dam burst in Bento
Rodrigues, a village of some 600 people near the Brazilian southeastern city of
Mariana in the historic mining region of Minas Gerais. Slate, 6 Nov, 2015. Web.
6 Dec. 2015; figure 3

Singa2011. This is a logo for German European School Singapore. GESS, 5 Sept.
2012. Web. 28 Nov. 2015; title page
Toor, Amar. Illegal gold is destroying the Amazon. The Verge. 28 Oct
2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.

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Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River



What steps will you
follow to address/
answer the research
question?

Task

Completion Date

Checklist

Start the unit about


rivers.

Start of November

Develop an action
plan for the main
stages of the
investigation. The
action plan should be
framed by the subquestions but should
be treated like a check
list of things- to-do.

Learn the parts of the


river and the water
cycle and anything
related to it.

November

Get the task sheet


and choose a river
system to research.
(Amazon River)

18th November 2015

Include what needs to


be done and when
you aim to have it
completed by

Research facts about


the Amazon River
and copy and paste
important information
on the capture sheet.
Do the same with the
link.

19th November 2015

Find a map of the


Amazon River basin
and copy and paste
the picture and link
into the capture sheet
and essay.

20th November 2015

Start researching
about facts about
pollution in the
Amazon River and
copy and paste
information onto the
capture sheet along
with the link.

21st November 2015

Keep on researching
the causes of the
water pollution,
following the same
research steps as
above.

21st November 2015

Research how water


pollution affects the
river and any wildlife
and humans living on

24th November 2015

12

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River



the river banks and
also who it affects.
Copy and paste
relevant information
in the capture sheet
along with the link.
Try to find matching
pictures to add to the
report. Copy and
paste the link.

24th November 2015

Research how this


problem can be
resolved and copy
and paste the
relevant information.
Do the same to the
link and the date.

25th November 2015

Write a conclusion
that summarizes all
the key thoughts of
the report and
answers the main
research question.

27th November 2015

Cite all of the links


from the capture
sheet using the MLA
format.

4th December 2015

Add the works cited


to the report.

4th December 2015

Answer the
evaluation question

7th December 2015

Create a slideshow
on PowerPoint for a 5
min presentation to
talk about the report.

8th December 2015

Present the
presentation to the
class.

9th December 2015

Hand in the entire


assessment via

9th December 2015

13

Gold Mining and Its Effects on the Amazon River



TurnItIn.

Evaluation

Evaluate and reflect on the research process

Questions to follow

I think that my research process has gone really well for this project. First I had
to research the basic information about the Amazon River, which was very
simple to find because there were a lot of websites regarding this basin. For
this reason, I made sure to use at least two to three different websites for
different facts on the Amazon River to verify the information.
Later on, when I had to research what effect gold mining has on the river, I had
some difficulty finding the effects of gold mining on the river because most of
the websites focused on the effect it has on the rainforest itself. Therefore I
had to research about the effect of certain factors on the river, like
deforestation, in general terms (not specifically on the Amazon River). I could
finally find more information about that then. However, I it was slightly harder
to find information about other issues affecting the Amazon River, but after
looking at more websites, I managed to find them.
I think that overall I had a really good research process, which helped me find a
lot of information about my topic. First I found a set of sub-questions and
could therefore narrow down the river conflicts down to just one. I then
looked at the task sheet and found out what topics I had to cover in my report.
I based several sub-questions off of these headings. I always tried to find
multiple websites for each fact I found or an example I was expanding on.
I had to also find mitigation strategies to help resolve the problem. My
research did not show much information about the preventive measures. I
needed to dig deeper and also think about normal strategies without focusing
specifically on the Amazon River.
However, I found all the information I needed and also backed up my facts
with evidence and examples I found that are related to my topic. Every time I
needed to find out something else, I would use key words of a sub-question
and search them up on the internet and include the relevant information in my
report. Important quotes or sentence I cannot rephrase, I use the in-text
citation method. I also made sure that I kept track of the links to the websites
and dates I accessed them, so that I could cite them near the end of the
project. I did all this on my capture sheet.

14