Cutting-edge technology and some of the world’s biggest machines are needed to establish and operate a mine.
But to successfully return a closed mine back to nature, scientists are turning to one of the world’s smallest creatures – the humble ant.
Re-establish the area’s biodiversity
With the controversial Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park due to cease operations at the end of this year, attention is now focused on ways to ensure that the vacated area will, as soon as possible, re-establish a biodiversity similar to that which exists in the surrounding park.
Researchers from the Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub say they have found that studying ants in Kakadu is providing benchmark information on what to aim for in the rehabilitation process.
Project leader, Professor Alan Andersen from the NT’s Charles Darwin University, said ants are the most abundant animals in Kakadu and play many important ecological roles, so it makes sense to use them as indicators of the success of mine-site rehabilitation.
Ants indicate health of the ecosystem
“While we monitor a number of animals, ants promote mine-site rehabilitation by enhancing soil formation and nutrient cycling,” Andersen explained. “If ants are in good shape then this indicates a healthy ecosystem.”
According to Sam McMahon, Senator for the Northern Territory, the work of scientists and the ants will play an important role in the future of the region.
“It is vitally important that our world heritage-listed Kakadu National Park is protected for generations to come,” McMahon noted. “This work will ensure rehabilitation of the Ranger uranium mine to the highest standard.”
Significant data on area’s animals
Dr Alaric Fisher, Executive Director, Flora and Fauna Division within the Northern Territory Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security, said researchers had also gathered significant data since the 1990s on the vertebrate animals that inhabit the area.
“It means that we’ve got really solid data over a very long period of time about the biodiversity in the woodlands surrounding the mine, from which we can make a robust assessment about the success of rehabilitation in restoring a ‘natural’ ecosystem,” Fisher said.
The Ranger mine is surrounded by, but separate from, Kakadu National Park. The ore body was discovered in late 1969 and the mine commenced operation in 1980. It has been has been incurring financial losses since 2013, when uranium demand slumped.