• Share

Turning the tide: Ways ICMM members are protecting aquatic wildlife

The aquatic world is suffering.

Below the surface of the earth’s oceans, rivers and lakes, biodiversity and ecosystems are under unprecedented pressure from human activity. 

The mining and metals industry often operates in remote and water stressed locations, and has an important role to play in protecting aquatic wildlife in partnership with local governments and communities, including Traditional Owners of areas. 

ICMM members are collaborating on key research initiatives, yielding vital data to help preserve species and monitor river health. They are also taking landscape-scale action to halt and reverse nature loss, from building fish sanctuaries in the Philippines, to tracking turtles in Western Australia.

Flatback turtles, Australia 

The marine turtle is one of the oldest animals on earth, having sagely navigated the world's oceans for over 100 million years. Today, sea turtles are gravely threatened by a range of human activity that includes discarded fishing gear, coastal development, sea level rise and climate change.

The flatback sea turtle, weighing up to 90kg, nests only in Australia. Female turtles leave the safety of the ocean to nest every two to seven years, laying several clutches of around 50 eggs over the course of several weeks.  

Bells Beach, a key mainland rookery for eggs and hatchlings, lies next to the Rio Tinto port in Cape Lambert. Any busy port has the potential to disrupt the turtle’s breeding, with light and noise pollution particularly problematic and causing them to abandon their attempts to nest. 

To safeguard the breeding turtles, Rio Tinto restricts vehicle access to Bells Beach and has installed special lights that turtles are less sensitive to, as well as preventing direct light spill onto the beach. This prevents the hatchlings becoming disoriented by the light source when they emerge from their nests, as the brighter horizon over water is their guide on their first journey to the ocean. 

Rio Tinto also protects the sand dune habitat that the flatback relies on to breed. The company has partnered with the local community, government and the Ngarluma people - the area's Traditional Owners - to monitor the turtle population through a program  now in its third decade. The data is used to model turtle breeding patterns and to inform future initiatives for the conservation of these long-lived sea creatures.

Aquatic biodiversity, Brazil 

The Amazon is recognised worldwide for its incredible biodiversity. A four-year study on aquatic biodiversity in Barcarena, Brazil, aims to uncover information on the diversity and abundance of fish, aquatic insects, plankton, and other aquatic life in this region. 

The research, the first of its kind in Barcarena, is being carried out by Institute of Biological Sciences of the Federal University of Pará in partnership with Hydro, who is investing approximately BRL 2.7 million. This will fund equipment for the university, as well as 28 scholarships for students. 

The project covers a wide range of aquatic life and behaviour, from mapping the fish that inhabit the region, to the study of insects that live part of their life in water, such as dragonflies and beetles. 

River health, Australia 

The Fitzroy Basin, in Queensland, Australia, includes six major river systems and has over 20,000 kilometres of waterways. The region is of great economic importance but the health of the basin and the wildlife it supports has been under pressure from human activity for many years.

Water is a precious shared resource, underpinning the wellbeing of people and the natural world. Understanding how water quality in the Fitzroy Basin is affected by human activity, and to measure whether efforts to improve it are succeeding, requires cooperation on a grand scale. 

In 2012, BHP joined the Fitzroy Partnership for River Health, a collaboration of government, industry, research and community organisations. The partnership monitors river health in the Fitzroy Basin and publishes an annual report card on the health of the region’s fresh water, estuarine and marine environments.

BHP is also collaborating with the Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership, in Queensland’s Mackay-Whitsunday region. Water flows from this catchment area into the Great Barrier Reef, a delicate ecosystem under enormous pressure from climate change. The partnership’s work has highlighted gaps in existing data on the health of the inland waterways, which are now being addressed by new monitoring and collaborative research programmes. 

Kelp forests, Namibia 

Kelp are large brown algae that grow in dense underwater forests close to the shoreline. Forests of this seaweed can sequester CO2 at an incredible rate, far quicker than woods and trees on land, and the canopy can be harvested for use in sustainable agri-foods, fertiliser, pharmaceuticals and textiles. 

The floating kelp towers are also a biodiversity haven, providing food and shelter for countless fish, invertebrates and marine mammal species.  

This is why De Beers has invested $2 million in Kelp Blue, a start-up that is supporting the development of kelp forests off the coast of Namibia. Situated in Lüderitz, where the ocean conditions are ideal for kelp farming, the first product is already available – a sustainable soil treatment that improves crop productivity and resilience for agriculture. 

It is anticipated that the business will also help to support sustainable economic development in Namibia, creating several hundred jobs across biotechnology, engineering, processing and logistics. 

This remarkable nature-based solution to carbon sequestering is one of many projects being undertaken by ICMM members to protect aquatic wildlife, part of their commitment to helping create a nature positive future.