Thursday, 30 March 2023

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How Bitcoin mining saved Africa’s oldest national park from bankruptcy

How Bitcoin mining saved Africa's oldest national park from bankruptcy

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become the first national park in the world to run a Bitcoin (BTC) mine in an effort to protect its forests and wildlife. Cointelegraph spoke with Sébastien Gouspillou, CEO of Big Block Green Services, and the man who introduced Bitcoin mining to the park. 

Speaking via video call, Gouspillou said with a smile: “Bitcoin mining saved the park from bankruptcy.”

Virunga is Africa’s oldest protected park and a symbol of the continent’s biodiversity. A report by journalist Adam Popescu, published in MIT Technology Review, explained that the region was plagued by issues prior to Bitcoin mining. From local militias that waged violent attacks on its animals and employees to outbreaks of Ebola to kidnappings, the emblematic national park has struggled for revenue in recent years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent eradication of tourism was almost the nail in the coffin for the park, as visits to see the gorillas, other wildlife and waterfalls dried up. The article explained that tourism represented roughly 40% of the park’s revenue.

From left to right, JF Augusti Co-founder of Big Block Green Services, Seb Gouspillou and Emmanuel de Merode. Source: Gouspillou

When Gouspillou learned of the park’s strife, he felt compelled to help. He met with Emmanuel De Merode, the park’s director — and a Belgian prince by bloodline — at a chateau in France at the tail end of 2019. Gouspillou explained that he immediately recognized the tremendous opportunity the park presented. 

The park could monetize its abundant and untapped natural resources to preserve its existence. Gouspillou explained to De Merode how Virunga could turn to Bitcoin mining to generate income.

The conversation in the chateau was non-stop. “It must’ve lasted hours,” Gouspillou explained. The discussion, as well as follow-ups and a visit to Congo, eventually culminated in De Merode setting up the first portions of the mining operation in early 2020, which successfully mined the first coins in September of that year.

Bitcoin mines in Virunga set against the park backdrop. Source: Twitter

Almost three years later, the park earned significant income from Bitcoin. During some months of the 2021 bull run, the park was rewarded upwards of $150,000 a month — almost entirely offsetting lost tourist income. 

Virunga’s Bitcoin mine is a unique solution to the problem of preserving the park’s biodiversity while also…

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