Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science
School of Natural Sciences
Pit lakes may form when open cut mining leaves a pit void behind that fills with ground and surface water. Often replacing terrestrial ecosystems that existed prior to mining, the pit lake may offer an alternative ecosystem with aquatic biodiversity values that can be realised through planned restoration. Restoration theory and mine closure regulatory requirements guides us toward restoring disturbed systems towards landscapes that are of regional value and relevance. However, how do we identify a restoration target for a novel aquatic habitat that did not exist prior to the new post-mining landscape? This paper presents a process of first identifying and then surveying local analogue aquatic systems to provide a direction for pit lake restoration efforts and achievement criteria for pit lake relinquishment. We illustrate this process using a case study from a sand mining operation located amongst wetlands in south western Australia. The company mines silica sands following mechanical removal of topsoil and then extraction of the ore from below the water table by dredging. Assessment of wetland and riparian vegetation in the surrounding area was completed through the establishment and measurement of temporary monitoring transects across five natural wetlands in the Kemerton area with several more visited and observations made. Distinct zonation of vegetation 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 Melaleuca rhaphiophylla and 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 areas more likely to experience regular flooding and accumulate organic matter and nutrients. We consider that, with good planning, rehabilitation, monitoring and management interventions to achieve a restoration trajectory, these new mining pit lakes can positively contribute to regional ecological values.