Sturt Desert Pea in the Pilbara

Biodiversity

The associated impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss pose significant risks to people and the environment on which we all rely. We recognise our responsibility to effectively mitigate the impact of our operations on nature – and we are mindful of our own dependence on healthy ecosystems to run a successful business.

Healthy natural environments with relatively intact ecosystems are key to climate resilience. They also provide important services to the communities where we operate and our business. We are committed to protecting biodiversity with the ambition of achieving no net loss. This means striking a balance between negative impacts on biodiversity and positive outcomes achieved through the application of the mitigation hierarchy.

We continue to engage externally on our approach to learn from others. For example, in 2021 we participated in the Informal Working Group on the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (the precursor to the now launched Task Force). We also participated in the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Nature-based Solutions to contribute ideas on how best to scale up natural climate solutions in addition to emissions reduction projects. We have now established a team to investigate potential investment in natural climate solutions on or near our landholdings. We believe these initiatives can help mitigate our emissions, support biodiversity protection and positively contribute to the many diverse communities that host us globally.

2021 performance

In 2020, we reported on the biodiversity sensitivity of our assets using a database developed by the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP WCMC) methodology that combined global datasets of threatened species and conservation and protected areas. Building on this, in 2021 we worked with Birdlife International to understand how our biodiversity programmes might also contribute to carbon sequestration and began to understand how we might apply nature-based solutions within our landholdings. This work will continue to mature in 2022.

As a founding partner of UNEP WCMC’s 19-year-old Proteus Partnership, we committed to the next five-year phase of this cross-sectoral association. Through this partnership, and as part of our drive to build our internal capability, we have delivered biodiversity training to more than 200 employees across the business in 2021. 

We were unable to complete an independent review of the monitoring programmes of our high priority biodiversity sites in 2021 due to pandemic-related restrictions. However, we had independent assessments completed for five of eight sites and completed an internal assessment of all plans. We aim to complete this work in 2022 to ensure that management plans and actions adequately address risks to nature.

Australia

In Australia, because many of our operations are situated on the coast and our value chain is dependent on marine transport, we invest in marine research to address potential impacts.

Cape Lambert environment

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For example, our Cape Lambert port, in Western Australia, is next to Bells Beach, a regionally significant mainland rookery for the threatened flatback turtle. Since 2002, we have conducted annual field work at Bells Beach, Delambre Island and other regional sites to monitor the visiting turtle populations. To protect these breeding grounds, we adopted measures such as feral animal control, light management and dune protection. We do this work in ongoing partnership with the local community, regulators and the Ngarluma people – the area’s Traditional Owners. Sharing the programme learnings is one way we help others support the conservation of these marine turtles.

Wildlife in the forest near QMM

Madagascar

At QIT Madagascar Minerals, we have established three protected conservation areas – around 2,095 hectares of forest – within the region.

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These areas, which are home to unique plant and animal species like lemurs, are carefully managed in partnership with local civil society organisations and community groups, helping further mitigate biodiversity impacts and ensuring availability of natural resources for communities.

One such species is the millipede – a critically important species for the health of the local forest ecosystem. Madagascar’s littoral forests grow on low-nutrient sands flushed by heavy rains, and so millipedes play a key role in decomposing leaves and other plant matter, to produce natural fertiliser for plant growth. By establishing conservation zones, we can help protect the millipedes as well as the healthy ecosystem they support.

California

In California, we use a local beekeeper to rehouse bees found onsite, helping keep both the bees and our employees safe.

Beekeeping at Boron operations

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Like many other insects, honeybee populations around the world are experiencing sharp declines: threats such as intensive farming, climate change, pesticides, diseases and invasive species are combining to create a hostile environment. So conservation efforts, such as those at Boron, are more important than ever.

The bees’ role as a pollinator is of enormous value both in stimulating natural biodiversity and in making many crops viable. At Boron, we move the bees to the operation’s 31 km2 (nearly 12 square miles) conservation land, adjacent to the mine, where they can forage on wildflowers and pollinate the local flora. They are later moved near commercial orchards to help pollinate crops like almonds, cherries, plums and avocados.

Working in partnership

Our environmental standards guide the way we identify and manage environmental risks.  They are developed using international best practices, often with the help of academic, civil society and Indigenous partners. We also work closely with local communities and Indigenous Peoples to plan for, and monitor, potential impacts from our operations and carry out mitigation activities. At our Weipa operations in Far North Queensland, Australia, for example, we set up the Land and Sea Management programme, which employs Traditional Owners to help monitor and manage cultural heritage, plants and land and marine wildlife to ensure minimal disruption.

We have also set up a number of independent panels at some of our sites to guide and help us. At QIT Madagascar Minerals, for example, we have established a Biodiversity and Natural Resources Management Committee – which the International Union for the Conservation of Nature facilitates – that includes experts in biodiversity and community management of natural resources. This committee helps us implement and monitor our biodiversity work and balance the natural resource needs of local communities.

We also contribute to regional biodiversity research and conservation efforts, such as the Nechako White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative in British Columbia, Canada. The Nechako White Sturgeon is a survivor from the age of dinosaurs and the largest freshwater fish in the country. We were a founding member of the Initiative – a partnership between all levels of government, environmental groups and First Nations peoples – which aims to prevent further declines of Nechako White Sturgeon numbers, ultimately rebuilding a self-sustaining population.

Northern Quoll, Western Australia

Improving our quoll-ifications

Australia's northern quolls, a small spotty marsupial, are doing it pretty tough – so tough, in fact, they are listed as an endangered species.

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Quolls were once a common sight in Australia, but over the years introduced species like poisonous cane toads and feral cats have decimated these cute, furry creatures. So when we found a small population of quolls living at our Weipa bauxite operations, in far northern Australia, our team went to work to protect them. 

We found and recorded a number of quolls as part of our regular baseline ecological surveys, and took the opportunity to carry out further research. With the data we collected, we were able to demonstrate the importance of the area, which meant that mining was excluded from that part of the lease.

As well as avoiding disturbance in the area where the quolls were found, we have been working with ecologists and the local Nanum Wungthim Land and Sea Rangers to learn more about the northern quoll populations in the area. This includes monitoring the population using motion sensor cameras, and conducting tracking studies to follow the movements of quolls fitted with radio emitting collars. Both programmes have provided valuable insights into northern quoll ecology and how we can help protect these beautiful animals.

Monitoring our impact

We continually monitor our impacts and redefine our approach. If we need to make changes to the design of our operations, we re-evaluate our land management and rehabilitation plans and adjust them accordingly.

One such risk, particularly in more tropical climates, is the spread of invasive species – either by directly or indirectly creating environmental conditions that encourage them to thrive or by introducing them to a new area. Since the time of explorers, the movement of goods and people has resulted in some species establishing themselves where they interfere with naturally occurring species. In such cases, the best way to protect biodiversity is to eradicate invasive species and ensure that we do not introduce new ones as a result of our activities.

It is therefore important that we constantly monitor these species to ensure that control measures are working.

For example, in Gove, in Australia’s Northern Territory, Yellow Crazy Ants are considered to be one of the world’s worst invasive ant pests. The ants pose a major threat to Australia's biodiversity, out-competing and displacing native insects, which are crucial for ecosystem health. Since 2003, we have been working with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Yolngu Business Enterprise on eradicating the Yellow Crazy Ant through detection and baiting.

We even use dogs: Gove Operations Rehabilitation Specialist Faye Lawton, who has been part of the eradication project since the start, says that having detection dog Jet on the team is a huge benefit. “Jet has been trained as a wildlife conservation detection dog and is fantastic at finding where a particular species – in this case Yellow Crazy Ants – might be hiding. Trials show that detection dogs are able to locate targeted species up to 300% more effectively than humans, so we are extremely lucky to have him here helping our environmental team map any Yellow Crazy Ant locations,” she said. Jet’s ability to detect the species is amazing and has meant that the team have been able to assess the monitoring results and tailor the programme to ensure the species is on the way to eradication.

Using the mitigation hierarchy

We use the mitigation hierarchy – a well-established method to address biodiversity risks – to ensure that we effectively manage our risks and impacts on the areas where we work. This includes:

  • Avoidance
  • Minimisation
  • Restoration
  • Offset

We look for opportunities to change or stop an activity to preserve biodiversity. For example, by avoiding disturbing an area where threatened species are found. At our QIT Madagascar Minerals Mandena mine site, we have committed to exclude 430 hectares of littoral forest from our mine plan as a community-managed protected area.

Where we cannot completely stop an activity or avoid an area, we look for ways to reduce our impacts. This includes things like speed limits on our haulage roads to protect wildlife, adding bird deflectors to transmission lines – as we do at our Oyu Tolgoi operations in Mongolia – and maintaining wildlife corridors and buffer zones in areas where we are operating – like at Richards Bay Minerals in South Africa.

We progressively revegetate disturbed land wherever possible, such as at our heavy mineral and our bauxite mining operations in South Africa and Madagascar, and Australia, respectively. Where this is not possible until closure, we have detailed rehabilitation plans for when mining in the area is finished. This includes working with scientists and local Indigenous people to make sure we are restoring land the right way.

These are actions we can take to address significant residual impacts we cannot avoid, minimise or restore. At our Weipa Operations in Far North Queensland, Australia, for example, we established an offset area, which includes sensitive ecosystems and is managed in partnership with Wik and Wik-Waya Traditional Owners.