Setting Restoration Goals for Restoring Pit Lakes as Aquatic Ecosystems - A Case Study from Southwest Australia
The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Natural Sciences / Centre for Ecosystem Management
Pit lakes may form when open cut mining leaves a pit void that then fills with ground and surface waters. This often replaces terrestrial ecosystems that existed prior to mining with an aquatic ecosystem, affording an opportunity to improve regional aquatic biodiversity values through targeted aquatic restoration (McCullough and van Etten, 2011). Restoration theory provides guidance when restoring disturbed systems towards landscapes that are of regional value and relevance. But how do we identify a restoration target for a novel aquatic habitat that only exists in the new post-mining landscape? This paper presents a process of first identifying and then surveying local representative aquatic systems, to provide a direction for pit lake restoration efforts and achievement criteria for pit lake relinquishment, using a case study from a sand mining operation amongst wetlands in southwestern Australia. The company mines silica sands following mechanical removal of topsoil and then extraction of the ore from below the watertable by dredging. Assessment of wetland and riparian vegetation was achieved through the establishment and measurement of temporary monitoring transects across five natural wetlands in the Kemerton area. Several more regional wetlands were also visited and observations made to supplement and validate these data. Distinct vegetation zonation was found across each wetland, although typically wetland basins were unvegetated or filled with younger woody plants with patchy distributions. Fringing riparian vegetation consisted of few species (commonly the paperbark Melaleuca rhaphiophylla and the sedge Lepidosperma longitudinale), but community composition and structure were variable between wetlands. The pattern of vegetation seen across natural wetlands was best explained by topography and soil chemistry, with low lying wetland areas more likely to experience regular flooding and accumulate organic matter and nutrients. In conclusion, where they are available, regional natural waterbodies may constitute the best valid restoration goal. Nevertheless, the goal may need to consist of a range of closure design opportunities, rather than a single target.