April 01, 2007

Tiny animal halts billion dollar mine


Tiny animal halts billion dollar mine

Michael Perry

Sydney: A blind spider-like animal has stopped development of a multi-billion-dollar iron ore mine in Australia. This is after an environmental body rejected the project fearing that the tiny cavedweller would become extinct.

Western Australia’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) rejected the proposal by Robe River — a unit of mining giant Rio Tinto — to develop the iron ore mine near Pannawonica in the Pilbara region after the company unearthed troglobites there, which measure just 4 millimetres (0.16 in) in length.

A troglobite is an animal that lives only in the dark parts of caves. It has adapted to life in total darkness and may have no eyes or pigmentation, using feelers to explore its way through the dark.

Troglobites are unable to live outside their pitch-dark world due to risk of death from exposure to ultraviolet light. Even short term exposures to sunlight can be fatal.

“Extensive research and sampling conducted by the proponent has identified a number of new species of troglobitic fauna,” EPA chairman Wally Cox said. An EPA report into the project found 11 species of troglobites in the area and said mining would extinguish at least five of them. The EPA judged that a proposed mining exclusion zone at the site would be inadequate to protect the tiny animal or aboriginal heritage in the area. “There is also concern over the long term structural stability of the landform post-mining,” said the EPA report. Rio Tinto said it would appeal against the decision. “It is a significant project, so we will appeal,” a spokesman said, adding, “This decision is a part of being in the mining business. We support the EPA process in general.”

Robe River already mines iron ore in nearby areas in the Robe River Valley. It currently produces 32 million tonnes per annum of ore, but the existing deposit will be exhausted by 2010. The new iron ore mine, with an expected life of 10 years, is planned as a replacement mine and is predicted to produce 220 million tonnes.


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