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.
Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
In an interview with Sébastien Gouspillou, CEO of Big Block Green Services, and the man who introduced Bitcoin mining to the park. 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.
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.
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 generating revenue. Bitcoin mining is a highly energy-intensive process, but Virunga’s mine is unique in that it runs on clean energy: It’s green technology surrounded by green rainforest.
The mine is powered by one of three hydro plants within the park, a sustainable source of electricity that was already being used to power nearby towns. The site has hired nine full-time workers, who work in rotating shifts operating the miners in the jungle, to staff the facility. Fearless rangers protect the site — a story that inspired a Netflix documentary, among other things.
The facility has 10 shipping containers, with each container holding 250 to 500 rigs. Virunga owns three of these containers, Gouspillou the remaining seven. Gouspillou purchases energy from Virunga as part of the arrangement, while keeping the mined Bitcoin.
Plus, as Gouspillou explains, the existing Bitcoin mining facility is part of a “global plan,” in which there will be further power-generating opportunities. Other power stations will be set up across the park, he explained, to connect local villages to electricity and, of course, mine more Bitcoin.
De Merode is steadfast that the project will be successful despite the ongoing bear market. Indeed, some Bitcoin miners fell victim to the 2022 bear market, but De Merode occupies a unique position: The park is not speculating on the value of Bitcoin, but generating Bitcoin using surplus energy to monetize something that otherwise has no value.