Monitoring rehabilitation success on Namakwa Sands heavy minerals mining operations, Namaqualand, South Africa
Thesis (MScConsEcol(Conservation Ecology and Entomology)--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.
Anglo American Corporation’s Namakwa Sands heavy minerals mining and beneficiation operation has been strip-mining a heavy mineral deposit, rich in the commercially valuable minerals ilmenite, rutile and zircon, since September 1994. The mine is located in the vicinity of Brand-se-Baai on the west coast of South Africa, approximately 385 km north of Cape Town. Strip-mining causes total destruction of natural ecosystems through the removal of vegetation and soil in the area where mining is being undertaken. Namakwa Sands has been rehabilitating mined out areas as the mining front moves forward. Due to the difficulty of rehabilitating mined out areas as a result of harsh environmental factors, Namakwa Sands has initiated various research projects to gain an understanding of the baseline conditions and ecosystem function in order to increase plant cover and biodiversity on post-mined areas. This on-going research and the development of rehabilitation and mining techniques have resulted in the implementation of four rehabilitation techniques varying in investment of topsoil replacement, seeding and plant translocation. This study assesses the success and effectiveness of these techniques in terms of various vegetation and soil parameters. In addition, those parameters that are considered useful for monitoring are identified. This study indicated that topsoil replacement and plant translocation facilitate the return of similarity, species richness, species diversity and vegetation cover to post-mined areas. The rehabilitation site that had the greatest amount of biological input (topsoil replacement and plant translocation) appeared to be the most successful technique in facilitating vegetation recovery similar to reference sites. In comparison, the site that had the least amount of biological input performed the worst and requires adaptive management, e.g. reseeding and / or plant translocation. Namakwa Sands should continue to replace topsoil in all future rehabilitation efforts and, when possible (e.g. after sufficient winter rain), continue to translocate species in multi-species clumps. In terms of species selected for translocation, Othonna cylindrica, Ruschia versicolor and Lampranthus suavissimus should be considered for future large-scale translocation projects. Zygophyllum morgsana appears to be more difficult to re-establish under the current climatic conditions (below average rainfall). The long-term viability of rehabilitated Z. morgsana populations needs to be determined before considering this species for any future large-scale translocation purposes. No translocated Asparagus spp. individuals survived and should therefore not be considered for any further translocation purposes. The grass Ehrharta calycina, which is dominant in the site seeded, should continue to be considered for future seeding. Species and functional diversity appear to be the most limiting factors within all the rehabilitation sites and Namakwa Sands will not be able to meet their long-term objective of small-stock farming if diversity and the number of palatable species do not increase significantly. Adaptive management should seriously be considered in order to speed up this process. Alternatively, an appropriate grazing strategy, which is related to the Tetragonia fruticosa dominated vegetation within rehabilitation sites, would need to be determined and adopted.More time is needed to ameliorate the rehabilitated soil profiles to the same level as in reference sites, especially with regard to carbon, pH and sodium levels. In order to increase organic matter within rehabilitation areas, Namakwa Sands should consider creating clumps with cleared vegetation from the mining front. Since the long-term rehabilitation goal has not been achieved, Namakwa Sands will need to continue to monitor plant and soil changes until it has been achieved. The objectives of the current rehabilitation programme are limited and Namakwa Sands should develop additional objectives relating to the structure and function of the natural vegetation. This will give a better indication of whether rehabilitation sites are progressing towards the desired end point and if adaptive management is required. In addition, the current monitoring programme (vegetation survey) implemented at Namakwa Sands could be improved by increasing the vegetation parameters to be monitored. It is recommended that the following vegetation parameters be monitored as part of the long-term monitoring programme: species composition and similarity, species richness, species diversity, vegetation cover, species dominance, vertical structure and functional diversity of the vegetation (clumps and inter-clumps). It is also recommended that carbon, pH and sodium of soil profiles be monitored as part of the long-term monitoring programme. These parameters should not be seen as exhaustive as this study only considered various vegetation parameters and soil chemistry between rehabilitation and reference sites. The results of other studies on the fauna, mycorrhiza, insects, etc. should also be taken into consideration and the monitoring parameters expanded accordingly.