Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), a com-pany that mines and beneficiates the mineral-rich sands in the coastal dunes of KwaZulu-Natal, and mining giant Rio Tinto are spending about R30-million from the planned budget for 2008/9 to continue all activities related to the rehabilitation of coastal dune vegetation through natural processes.
The rehabilitation project started some 32 years ago.
Besides other things, the monitoring by an independent group of academics from the University of Pretoria involves interdisciplinary research on age-related changes in ecological components of coastal dune forests. These assist them in unravelling and evaluating the ecological processes that drive forest development and govern the postmining recovery of coastal dunes.
RBM is a joint venture between Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton and, for some 33 years, RBM has been mining the coastal sand dunes of northern KwaZulu-Natal for valu- able minerals such as ilmenite, rutile and zircon.
Last year, R26-million was spent on the rehabilitation of indigenous forests, commercial forests, weed control, illegal dumping removals, machinery and the payment of contractors that employ local labour.
RBM ecologist Michelle Boshoff says that the company supports social and environmental activities that go hand-in-hand with the protection of biological diversity.
“Mining, by its very nature, destroys biological diversity. “RBM is committed to the sustainable use of resources and, in line with Rio Tinto’s biodiversity strategy, ensures the recovery of the processes that will lead to the restoration of biological diversity,” says Boshoff.
RBM’s mining lease areas serve as an outdoor laboratory to study the ecological and biological processes that dictate the regeneration of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems. RBM aims to restore the biological pro-cesses typical of a coastal dune forest. The company relies on natural processes to regain species diversity and the processes that revolve around their persistence. Such a long-term commitment to ecological restoration, specifically using natural processes, is unique in Africa and most other places – the programe thus puts RBM at the forefront.
To achieve its goal, RBM has committed itself to an independent scientific research programme by the Conservation Ecology Research Unit, which evaluates the com- pany’s restoration efforts according to set ecological criteria, and guides its restoration management decisions.
“This has set the stage for the design of a series of ongoing studies that deal with the regeneration of coastal dune forest community composition, structure and function. “These studies are guided by the principles of academic independence and freedom,” declares Boshoff.
The company’s financial and philosophical commitment to restoration and research has so far ensured that rehabilitation has been largely successful. But continued commitment, not only to the principle of best practice in rehabilitation, but also to catering for the unforeseen through support for innovative research, will ensure success in the future.