From the Pilbara’s rust-coloured mountains to the ancient sand dunes of northern Kwazulu-Natal, our operations are located in some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the world.

With this comes great responsibility – and a recognition that we must strike a balance between providing the materials the modern world needs while also minimising potential impacts on the environment.

At the frontline of this challenge are our employees, whose work ranges from land rehabilitation to groundbreaking research. Many are avid wildlife enthusiasts, and keen nature photographers too. Here some of our colleagues share their experiences, and their photos, of connecting with nature in their part of the world.

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A mountain lion rests in the shade near Rio Tinto’s Bingham Canyon copper mine, Utah, US.

Mountain lions are found throughout the Oquirrh Mountains, which lie to the western edge of our operations.

“What struck me was how calm the mountain lion was, even with us driving by. It was sunning itself and then moved into the shade when we started taking pictures,” says Clayton Sanders, project engineer – Logistics, who spotted the big cat while conducting a routine site inspection with Geotechnical superintendent Chad Williams.

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A flatback turtle hatchling emerges just before dusk, Bells Beach, near Rio Tinto’s Cape Lambert Port, Western Australia

Flatback turtles are listed as vulnerable, and are the only sea turtle species that nest exclusively on Australian beaches.

“Our operations are located close to a flatback turtle nesting beach, and so we have a management plan in place to protect them,” says Jason Rossendell, specialist, Ecosystems in Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore business, who took the photo at the start of a night’s monitoring activities.

“Our plan includes an annual monitoring programme, which involves tagging nesting females to identify population trends and tracking hatchling survival.

“This photo is significant to me because it reminds me that what I’m doing is worthwhile. We have a site of high environmental value near our operations, and we need to make sure we aren’t impacting on the species there,” Jason said.

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Ephemeral wetlands appear following summer rain on biodiversity offset land, Hail Creek coal mine, Queensland, Australia

“It’s dry most of the year, but this was taken just after rain which gave it a sudden burst of life. There was wildlife everywhere,” says Chris MacColl, who was conducting a fauna survey on the mine’s offset land when he took the photo.

“Fauna surveys are an important part of our environmental work. They not only help us identify what animals are in the area, but also build our understanding of each species and how we might manage potential impacts on them.”

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A young flap-necked chameleon hides among leaves in a forest restoration site managed by Rio Tinto’s Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) operation, South Africa

Since mining started more than 40 years ago, RBM has been conducting rehabilitation activities to restore forest vegetation following dredge mining. The restoration programme has been commended by environmental groups and the South African Department of Mineral Resources.

“The operation established vast tracts of avoidance zones along the mining lease, and these have ensured the forest has been quickly recolonised by the natural immigration of animals like the chameleon,” says Theresia Ott, principal adviser, Environment.

“Chameleons may appear slow and ungainly with their characteristic stuttered walk pattern, but it’s difficult to capture a photo of a one out in the open! They move around the branch they’re on, change colour and climb ever higher to avoid a mugshot,” Theresia said.

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Bachelor’s buttons (Gomphrena canescens), a native herb, brightens the landscape near Rio Tinto’s Paraburdoo iron ore mine, Pilbara, Western Australia

“Autumn in the Pilbara means many native grass species are setting seed,” says Kate Vaughan, Rehabilitation and Closure specialist. The Rehabilitation team purchases native seed from licensed collectors, who pick seed in defined provenance zones around each of the Iron Ore business’s operations.

“We use native seed to supplement the seed that exists in the topsoil and to promote vegetation establishment.

“Over the next five years we plan to use more than 15 tonnes of native seed for rehabilitation,” Kate said.

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The vibrant Leichhardt’s grasshopper, a native Australian species, sits in bright contrast to the green foliage of Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia (© Scott Murray)

Kakadu surrounds, but is separate from, Energy Resources of Australia’s (ERA) Ranger uranium mine. ERA plans to progressively rehabilitate the Ranger Project Area to a condition that would eventually allow it to be incorporated into the Park.

“Leichhardt’s grasshopper was once thought to be extinct, only to be rediscovered in 1971,” says avid wildlife photographer and Jabiru local Scott Murray. Scott, who is an emergency services officer with ERA, spotted the grasshopper while showing friends around Kakadu.

“They’re rare – they’re only seen in the wet season, and only on two species of shrub.

“The Gundjeihmi people call them Alyurr. They’re the children of Barrginj and Namarrgon – also known as the Lightning Man,” Scott said.

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A native green tree frog is carefully released into a local creek at Kestrel coal mine, Queensland, Australia

They are nocturnal, and are often seen before or during rain.

“Green frogs are an indicator of the health of an ecosystem as they absorb pollutants and contaminants through their skin, and so are highly susceptible to changes,” says Nicole Mittan, superintendent, Environment, at Kestrel.

“If we see them in our offices or operational areas, we remove them from harm’s way and release them back into the local creeks.

“I just love the bright green colour of their skin and how striking their eyes are with the metallic colouring. They always look like they’re smiling,” Nicole said.

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A palm cockatoo feeds on its favourite beach almond tree at sunset, Weipa foreshore, Queensland, Australia

The species, listed as vulnerable by the Australian government, is the world’s oldest cockatoo – yet there is still a lot scientists don’t know about the bird.

“My manager called me one Saturday to say the palm cockatoo was there, and so I rushed down to get up close to this amazing bird and take a few photos,” says Chris MacColl, a threatened species research officer at Rio Tinto’s Weipa bauxite operations.

“We’re currently working on a research project to learn more about the species, including how rehabilitated mine land can be enhanced to encourage breeding.

“For instance, if we can understand the full variety of plant species the palm cockatoo uses then we could potentially tailor areas of land rehabilitation to provide all the sustenance these birds need,” Chris said.


World Environment Day

World Environment Day, Monday 5 June, is the United Nations’ most important day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment.

In 2017, the theme is “connecting people to nature”. To celebrate, employees from around our business shared some of their favourite moments in nature and the work they’re doing to help protect the environment.

 

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