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What are wetlands, and why are they so important for the environment?

ICMM members understand that they are temporary custodians of the land on which they operate.

They are committed to making as little environmental impact as possible during mining operations as well as rehabilitating the land afterwards to help work towards a nature positive future for the world.

Wetlands are particularly important environments and ecosystems, and conservation work in these areas demonstrate the gains that can be made through rigorous management and best practice methodologies.

What is a wetland?

In general, wetlands can be categorised as areas where water covers the soil for parts of the year or all year round, and they can be differentiated as coastal wetlands or inland wetlands. 

Why are wetlands important to the environment?

Historically, wetlands were often written off as wastelands, but these days they are recognised as highly productive and biologically diverse ecosystems. 

A healthy wetland is one of the most ecologically abundant places on earth; the prolonged presence of water creates ideal growing conditions for certain types of plants and encourages the development of salty soils.

Healthy wetlands have numerous benefits, including:

  • Improving water quality

  • Acting as carbon sinks to help combat climate change

  • Creating a habitat for fish, waterfowl and other wildlife

  • Helping to check the destructive power of floods and storms

  • Controlling erosion and maintaining stream flows.

ICMM members are taking action in a variety of ways to reduce their impact on wetlands.

Updating infrastructure

Sibanye Stillwater, which operates on five continents, is committed to ensuring that by end of operations, wetland conditions at its sites are either improved from the baseline or at least remain the same as they were before mining started. 

It is doing this with new infrastructure and new approaches to stormwater management and water treatment systems to stop damaging materials from entering the ecosystems. Aquatic biomonitoring and specialist assessments are then used to keep a close eye on water quality and quantity, habitat and climatic conditions.

Increasing mangrove forests

A mangrove swamp is a type of coastal wetland found in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. They are characterised by an abundance of trees, shrubs and other plants that love to grow in the salty tidal waters. 

Worldwide, mangrove swamps are in decline due to factors such as erosion and the drive for more land to farm. However, in Papua, Indonesia, Freeport-McMoRan is collaborating with government, NGOs, universities, research organisations and local communities to regrow mangrove forests through a programme of planting and colonisation. Enhanced sedimentation has made the planting possible and the newly formed land areas are proving able to support diverse ecosystems. 

Revegetating wetlands

Since 2013, Codelco has been working on ecological restoration activities in the Los Maitenes-Campiche wetlands, close to the Ventanas site in Quintero Bay, northwest of Santiago, Chile.

The programme has focused on habitat creation through innovative revegetation practices, using biorolls (a carpet-like material made of natural fibres) to establish typha – a water-loving perennial plant that is indigenous to the area.

Throughout, the project team has monitored key environmental indicators in the wetlands, including wildlife, vegetation and the chemical and biological composition of the water in the ecosystem.

Biodiversity in the area has improved markedly over the past decade, with an increase in the richness and abundance of species. Nationally protected birds such as the cuervo de pantano (white-faced ibis) and coscoroba swan are now making their homes in the wetlands.

Preserving and maintaining ecological integrity

There are over thirty wetlands at Gold Fields’ Tarkwa and Damang sites in Ghana. Protecting and enhancing ecosystems like these are an important part of the company’s water policy and mine development. Periodic biodiversity studies at the mines include monitoring the health of these wetlands. The most recent (2016 and 2021) biodiversity surveys showed a healthy, beneficial environment with ten species of fish and various other bigger fauna present.

Gold Fields seeks to preserve and maintain the ecological integrity of the wetlands by controlling storm run-offs, preventing hydrocarbon spills and chemical pollution, effective waste management, improving housekeeping, water quality monitoring, progressive revegetation, and upgrading wetlands to enhance their ecosystems.

The future for wetlands

Throughout the world, wetlands play an important role in the lives of mammals, birds, fish, aquatic and other wildlife, as well as being home to a diverse range of vegetation. 

They help to control water flow, lessen the effects of storms and floods, and lock up carbon from the atmosphere. 

By collaborating with local communities to understand the needs of these fragile ecosystems, ICMM members are reduce the impacts of their operations and working to help create a nature positive future.