A Singaporean company called ISR Capital is working to develop a rare earth mine on Madagascar’s highly biodiverse Ampasindava peninsula. The company faces an investigation by financial regulators and turnover among its top executives.The mining of rare earth elements needed for cell phones and many other modern devices can have severe environmental and health impacts. This would be the first such mine in Madagascar.The Ampasindava peninsula is home to a number of threatened lemur species that could be further imperiled if the mining project goes forward, scientists warn. Local farmers and tourism operators oppose the project, fearing it could contaminate land and water. AMPASINDAVA PENINSULA, Madagascar — Solondraza, a 63-year-old farmer in northwestern Madagascar, has led a mostly conflict-free life. He and his wife live in a small house made of ravinala, a type of palm tree that fans out across the hilly landscape. They earn a living on cash crops like vanilla and cacao that grow well in the tropical environs, and this has allowed them to support their 18 children and 54 grandchildren, most of whom still live in and around their village of Befitina. But in recent years Solondraza has become something of an activist, organizing meetings and rallying neighbors. He wants to stop a foreign-owned company, Tantalum Rare Earth Malagasy (TREM), from mining his land for rare earth elements. “Our ancestors survived here by living off of the land,” Solondraza said. “If TREM comes here to destroy that harmony, I fear for my children’s future. We do not want TREM and we do not need them.” Solondraza inspects vanilla plants near his home. Coffee beans are on the trees just behind the vanilla. Cash crops such as these are the main livelihood for Ampasindava families. Photo by Edward Carver for Mongabay. Befitina is part of TREM’s 115-square mile (300-square kilometer) concession on the Ampasindava peninsula, a highly biodiverse area jutting out into the Mozambique Channel, several hundred miles east of the coast of mainland Africa. Ampasindava is home to a number of threatened lemur species that could be further imperiled if the mining project goes forward, scientists warn. The peninsula is also just across the water from the island of Nosy Be, Madagascar’s main tourist destination, where business owners worry that mining pollution could turn visitors away. Rare earth mining can have severe environmental and health impacts, research from China shows. TREM’s explorations show Ampasindava to be rich in the valuable rare earth elements needed in electric motors, computer parts, cell phones, and many other modern devices. The company managing the project has touted the “exceptionally promising” findings in Ampasindava, and the concession has twice been appraised at over $1 billion. (However, financial regulators rejected the appraisal methods and a third appraisal is now underway. This week, ISR Capital indicated that the upcoming appraisal would be much lower.) It is an ionic clay deposit, which are valuable for having rare earth elements that are relatively easy to mine and process. Only a few such deposits have been discovered outside of China, and the one in Ampasindava is considered especially large. Maps show Madagascar’s Ampasindava peninsula, with its marine protected area (blue writing), terrestrial protected area (green writing), and TREM rare earth mining concession (red writing). Background map courtesy of Google Maps; Ampasindava peninsula map by Association Famelona. Directly beside TREM’s concession is a protected area that covers the rest of the Ampasindava peninsula. The area was granted protected status in 2015, but only after TREM successfully lobbied to reduce its size, in order to safeguard the boundaries of the concession. In early 2015, two high-level government officials were flown into Ampasindava on a TREM-chartered helicopter, according to several people affiliated with Missouri Botanical Garden in Madagascar, which manages the protected area. A few months later, in July 2015, Madagascar’s government decided that the Ambongomirahavavy mountain area, which is the source of 80 percent of the peninsula’s water and had been slated for inclusion in the protected area, would remain part of TREM’s concession. “The government’s position was clear — they were pro-mining,” a Malagasy botanist involved with the negotiations told Mongabay. “Their interest in the environment was zero.” TREM viewed the negotiations differently. “I do not have precise information on how the negotiations went but TREM obviously was interested in the end results and it would be logical that TREM lobbied for a limited area to be protected in its concession,” Markus Kivimäki, the CEO of Tantalus Rare Earths AG (TRE AG), TREM’s longtime parent company in Germany, wrote in an email to Mongabay.