Across the globe, countries are figuring out how to bring plants and animals back to abandoned mines. With as many as 60,000 such sites, Australia could offer important lessons.
The 1986 Australian film Crocodile Dundee brought global fame to its leading man Paul Hogan, but the real star of the show was the vast, ancient landscape of the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.
Kakadu is the jewel in the crown of Australia’s national parks, but this unique wilderness is also home to one of the world’s largest uranium mines. The Ranger mine has been operational since 1980 but its time is drawing to a close; mining ended in 2012, and processing of the remaining stockpiled ore is expected to finish in 2020.
So what then for the mine site? It’s a question being asked with increasing urgency around Australia as the mining boom that has powered the Australian economy for nearly fifteen years wanes. There are as many as 60,000 abandoned mine sites, some in otherwise pristine ecosystems found nowhere else on earth.
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.