BHP Billiton’s Ravensthorpe Nickel mine highlights the human costs of the boom to bust mining economy; but beneath this lies another story, that of the environmental costs of unplanned mine closure.

The Ravensthorpe Nickel mine does not lie on any old land. The ore body sits in the Bandalup corridor, an area of remnant native vegetation connecting the Fitzgerald River National Park with the Ravensthorpe Range; and from there to the Great Western Woodlands and arid interior beyond.

The mine lies within the Fitzgerald Biosphere, an area surpassed in its biodiversity value only by the South-West’s greatest gems such as the Stirling Range National Park, making it one of the most biodiversity-rich parts of the Southwest Eco-Region – Australia’s only internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot. More than 700 species of plants were found on BHPB’s Ravensthorpe leases during pre-mining surveys.

However, despite the slow start-up of actual mining at the site and the fact that very little ore has been processed, BHPB cleared almost 100 % of the surface of the ore body prior to mining, leaving a massive scar where remnant vegetation had thrived only a couple of years before.

Now the mine and associated nickel factory is closed for the foreseeable future. Biodiversity offsets in the form of research and re-vegetation were committed to, but have not been commenced. Great promises were made, and broken. The vegetation is cleared and the future uncertain. Similar to the social and economic devastation caused to the towns Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun by BHP Billiton’s mine closure, so too, in terms of biodiversity, Western Australia has gained nothing and lost a lot.

Tim Nicol, Mining Spokesperson, Conservation Council of Western Australia. “Boom-to-bust mining industry leaves scar on biodiversity
hotspot”. Edited article from The Greener Times, Summer 2009