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How biodiversity monitoring is proving to be critical to conserving species and managing ecosystems

Biodiversity and ecosystems are being lost at an alarming rate as climate change and other human-induced drivers take their toll on nature.

ICMM members are committed to reversing this trend and contributing to a nature positive future. A key part of their work involves monitoring biodiversity on mine sites and in regions nearby, as well as in offset areas of land.

Simply put, monitoring is essential to understand an area’s state of nature, what can be done to protect and conserve it, and what are the effects of these restorative actions. To manage nature, we first must measure it.

Lorentz National Park, Indonesia

PT Freeport Indonesia’s mining operations are situated in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, next to the Lorentz National Park in Central Papua. This park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and includes alpine landscapes, tropical marine environments, as well as lowland wetlands. While not mining in the National Park, in accordance with ICMM’s commitment since 2003 to not mine or explore World Heritage Sites, PT Freeport Indonesia’s operations border the park and they therefore have a large role to play in understanding how the ecosystems in the region may be protected.

Protecting Papua’s natural wonders is a high priority for the company, and since 1994 it has welcomed national and international scientists to conduct biodiversity studies in the its operating areas. Permanent plots have also been designated for continued monitoring. Biodiversity research, focusing on a wide range of ecosystems and species, has helped to make the discovery of numerous new species ranging from aquatic biota to terrestrial plants and fauna, including an incredible 16 new crab species and 20-30 potentially new frog species. 

These studies have contributed to a wide range of literature produced on the region’s ecosystems and the information has been used to protect and conserve nature. Utilising local research has helped to tailor conservation efforts and resulted in a biodiversity program that has been endorsed by the Wildlife Habitat Council and was awarded its Gold Program of the Year Award in 2017.

Jarrah Forest, Australia

Over the last 50 years, Alcoa has published over 260 peer-reviewed articles on forest rehabilitation and management research. This year (2024), it is enhancing this longstanding commitment with the establishment of a dedicated research centre in the Northern Jarrah Forest of Western Australia's Darling Range, supported by Aus$9.9 million in funding over the next five years. This initiative reflects the company's dedication to protecting and restoring the forest ecosystem.

The jarrah forest is home to 14 threatened species, including the numbat, woylie, chuditch, and quokka. The new Forest Research Centre will expand Alcoa’s environmental research team and upgrade existing facilities, helping to bolster forest management practices. It will also incorporate Indigenous cultural values through a “two-way” science programme to enhance understanding of forest management, fire, culturally significant species, and health and wellbeing benefits found in the forest.

The centre will offer a "living laboratory" with access to unmined forest areas and various stages of rehabilitation, providing valuable research opportunities for both established researchers and students. Alcoa hopes to attract additional collaborative funding and establish a governance committee, with new research projects starting in early 2025.

Alongside their work in the jarrah forest, Alcoa is also working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature to improve restoration monitoring. This $1.5 million project aims to develop a model to assess restoration projects and is hoped to be applicable to projects across the world.

Incomappleux Valley, Canada

The Incomappleux Valley in south-eastern British Columbia is home to a rare inland temperate rainforest. Several threatened species live there, including bats and caribou as well as a variety of non-threatened species ranging from salmon to wetland birds.

Teck has contributed $2 million towards the conservation and protection of 75,000 hectares of the temperate rainforest, which has large areas of mature and old growth trees. The programme is a partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and First Nations whose territory includes the Incomappleux Valley.

Monitoring of the forest and the species that call the Incomappleux Valley home has helped emphasise the global importance of the temperate forest. Some specimens found are thought to be between 800 to 1,500 years old, and researchers have also identified several at-risk species of plants, mosses and lichen in the valley to be prioritised for conservation efforts.

Dungald River, Australia

At the Dungald River mine site in Queensland, Australia, MMG are playing an important role in the monitoring and conservation of the protected Carpentarian Pseudantechinus, a small, carnivorous mouse-like marsupial. This protected species is only found in a handful of locations in north-western Queensland.

MMG have collaborated with the University of Sunshine Coast and the Queensland University of Technology to monitor the distribution, habitat preferences and behaviours of these little mammals.

Contributing over US$300,000 to the project they hope that this research will be vital in informing effective conservation and rehabilitation plans for the species, both by MMG and others.

These stories highlight just some of the monitoring activities put in place by ICMM members to help understand, protect and restore biodiversity, all with the goal of contributing to a nature positive future. This work is not just important for helping to reduce and reverse nature loss on mining and metals sites, it also represents a wealth of information that can support conservation science across regions and landscapes. We will never uncover all of nature’s secrets, but understanding a little bit can go a long way to helping to protect those secrets for generations to come.

Click here to read more about how eDNA technology is helping to enhance biodiversity monitoring on mine sites.