Rehabilitation of Abandoned Mines in Australia Offers Lessons for the World

And Australia isn’t the only place dealing with mine retirement and subsequent rehabilitation efforts. In 2002, Canada established the National Orphaned/Abandoned Mines Advisory Committee, consisting of representatives from government, the mining industry, environmental organizations and Aboriginal communities, to improve the legislative, policy and program framework for addressing orphaned and abandoned mines, of which there are an estimated 10,000 around the country. Germany has also undertaken to rehabilitate some of its old mine sites, such as the lignite mine now transformed into a large nature and recreation area. The lessons from these experiences are being shared internationally at dedicated conferences, as nations grapple with their abandoned mine issues.

Unique Challenges

But Australia faces some unique challenges when it comes to rehabilitating mine sites, says Kingsley Dixon, botanist and John Curtin distinguished professor at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.

We have an ancient flora developed on ancient soils, that has developed systems which don’t require large-scale migration because the systems have become inherently very stable over very long periods of time,” says Dixon.

The second challenge is that Australian mines are found in a diverse array of landscapes and ecosystems, many of them relatively undisturbed. “There are no off-the-shelf, ‘let’s-go-to-Bunnings [hardware store]-and-buy-the-packet-of-seed’ solutions,” he says.

The biggest challenge for mining companies — who by law now bear the responsibility of rehabilitating their mines after closure — is restoring the topsoil to a mine site, says Peter Erskine, a plant ecologist and lead of the Ecosystem Assessment, Restoration and Resilience Program at…

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