Australia’s mining boom was credited with helping to see the country through the global financial crisis almost a decade ago, and is a significant player in the economy’s continued growth. While mining will no doubt continue to be a key player in the Australian landscape for generations to come, many areas are seeing a downturn in mining operations, and subsequent abandoning of mining sites is apparent around the country. In a recent report by the Australia Institute, it is estimated that Australia is now host to some 60,000 abandoned mine sites.
How are mine sites being rehabilitated currently?
Rehabilitating mine sites can be a challenging endeavour. However, open-cut mines, or quarries, represent a unique opportunity for staggered rehabilitation, due to their staged use and accessible landscape.
Currently, a number of quarries around Australia, including Glencore’s Mangoola mine in New South Wales are involved in ongoing rehabilitation of their sites, while the mines are still in operation. ABC’s Lateline spoke with the Mangoola mine’s operations manager, Tony Israel earlier this year.
“What we hope to do is try to relinquish land progressively not just wait until the end of the mine’s life, so with some of our more mature areas we will be looking at trying to relinquish that early,” he said.
Rather than representing a liability to the community and to the mining operators, through clever planning and concerted efforts such as those conducted by Glencore, disused mines may become public assets.
Landscaping for the local ecosystem
Best practice for mine rehabilitation is Australia now includes restoring the land as closely to its original state as possible. Rather than simply building a hill atop a disused mine site, best practice planning now involves shaping the land to a more natural state. This includes returning rolling hills to their original form, with valleys and rises which make best use of the waterfall in the area. This landscaping plays an important role in ensuring that all aspects of the newly re-established ecosystem – from the runoff of rainwater, to vegetation growth – can occur in a way which supports the local environment and enables wildlife and vegetation to flourish.
In time, tree hollows form in rehabilitated land, to allow birds and other local wildlife to set up their nests and dens. However, encouraging the reintroduction of wildlife to the newly rehabilitated mine site can take decades, thanks to the slow rate at which tree hollows form. Miners like Glencore are taking initiative to speed up this process by installing bird boxes, hollowed logs and even rocky outcrops which attract the wildlife from surrounding areas. The spotted tail quoll, an endangered species, has been slowly but surely moving back into the Mt Owen Mine’s rehabilitated site, a few short years after its relinquishment.
Creating recreational precincts
Some of Australia’s most successful mine rehabilitation efforts have seen the reintroduction of not only wildlife to the areas, but also a human contingent. Mine sites like that at Karkarook Park in Victoria have successfully recreated bushland and waterways which:
“[Provide] a diverse habitat for more than 110 species of birds, many invertebrate species, indigenous trees, shrubs, grasses and aquatic marsh vegetation. A wide range of fish inhabits the lake, including Rainbow Trout and Red Fin.”
The park hosts over 160,000 visitors each year and boasts canoeing, kayaking and other watersports as key attractions. The area has become a valuable community resource for Victoria’s Moorabbin.
Of course, Australia’s housing market continues to expand, and as such, new residential development sites are always in demand. Disused mine sites can, and have been, successfully rehabilitated to a state fit for housing construction. New South Wales’ Penrith Lakes, which played a key role in Sydney’s 2000 Olympic Games water sports activities, was once the site of Australia’s largest quarry. The land is now subject to rezoning efforts which hope to see a major new housing development in the area. The popular waterways and surrounding bushland are sure to make an attractive proposition to home buyers in the area.