The mining industry is very conscious of the damage caused by open-pit mining and any associated activities. Efforts are therefore being made to approach such projects with a coordinated and sustainable longer-term vision.
Companies and governments are pulling their resources to restore former mining sites and, whilst doing so, take full advantage of the restoration process to try and improve the biodiversity of the affected area.
Restoring open pit mines
One example of mine restoration is the Gillervattnet reclamation project run by Boliden. The former tailings pond is undergoing reclamation work to stabilise the sulphur-rich sand, and transform the part of the site into a wetland habitat for wildlife. The company has taken on this challenge with a long-term view of trying to imagine what the mined area should be like in 1000 years time – a true landscape vision.
More about this project – Watch the movie Thanks for the loan
Creating nature reserves
Rio Tinto Kennecott has transformed acreage once dominated by over-grazed lands, salt evaporation ponds and illegal dumps into a 3,670-acre shorebird and waterfowl reserve along the south shore of Great Salt Lake. In 2004, the area became an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is now part of BirdLife International’s IBA Program. The purpose of the program is to identify, monitor and protect a global network of IBAs to conserve birds and other biodiversity – birds being one of the most vital indicators of a healthy environment.
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Protecting the desert
The Gobi desert is one of the world’s last great deserts, home to abundant wildlife and people with a strong connection to the land. Change is coming quickly to Mongolia, especially the South Gobi. The region’s rich natural resources have made the country increasingly attractive for many mineral development projects. This creates tremendous opportunity for the people and their standard of living. However, it also places significant pressures on the natural environment. The region’s mining and infrastructure projects are supporting economic development, but they also have the potential to impact wildlife and traditional communities that live off the land. Decisions are being made today that will affect this landscape forever and addressing this challenge in a piecemeal way, project by project, is not enough. What’s needed to support a more sustainable Gobi is a vision that takes into account the full scope of potential projects and their cumulative impacts to the landscape.
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“In Mongolia, we need to find a way to collaborate with industry, government and communities so we can create a balance between conservation and development. Development by Design gives us a solution to this dilemma.”
Gala Davaa, the director of conservation for the Conservancy’s Mongolia programme
Restoring water quality and woodland
Another example of a company with a long-term sustainable vision is KGHM. At present the company is carrying out two reclamation operations: at the Podolsky mine in Canada, and the Carlota mine in the USA. KGHM completed the reclamation of the Gilów tailings pond in Poland, which was the main tailings facility for over two decades, and today is a home to animals and plants. Moreover, since Gilów’s closure in 1980, it has become a sanctuary for wetland birds. Similarly, the mining sites in the so-called Old Copper Basin in Poland, such as Lena or Konrad, have been reclaimed for the natural environment, with the water quality and previous areas of woodland being restored. The company also nurtures the areas around its facilities. For over 20 years, KGHM has developed the areas of the former protection zones of the Głogów and Legnica smelter/refineries, and thanks to consistent efforts, most of these areas are now classified as woodland.