Iron ore mining threatens rare wildflowers in WA

Mining threatens iron formations on the Helena and Aurora Range, home to several endemic species of flower.
By Alex Wallace November 20, 2013 Reading Time: 2 Minutes

CONSERVATION GROUPS IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA are campaigning to protect one of the last pristine examples of banded iron formations in Australia.

Rich in iron ore, these sedimentary formations are made up of layers of quartz and iron oxides deposited over millions of years, and are distinguishable by their striking coloured bands.

The Helena and Aurora Range is home to a number of flora species endemic to the formations themselves, such as bungalbin tetratheca (Tetratheca aphylla), bearded heaths (Leucopogon spectabillis) and bungalbin swordsedge (Lepidosperma bungalbin).

The formations also provide a habitat for rare and threatened fauna species including the malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata), the gilled slender blue-tongued lizard (Cyclodomorphus) and the tree-stem trapdoor spider (Aganippe castellum), as well as the protected peregrine falcon.

However, the region also attracts the interest of mining companies, enticed by the high grade of the minerals found here.

“When I first visited [the range] in 2003, I knew mining was on the cards,” says Shapelle McNee, a botanist and member of the Helena and Aurora Range Advocates. “But once it’s been mined, it’s never the same again.”

Rare banded iron formation in WA

Dated at 2.6 billion years old, the Helena and Aurora Range is part of the Great Western Woodlands, about 100km north-east of Southern Cross, WA. It is one of the most significant collections of banded iron formations in Australia today.

“The whole Great Western Woodlands is home to many interesting species that cannot be found elsewhere,” says Professor John Majer, a research scientist at Curtin University in Perth.

Conservation groups have called for protection for the area since the early 1980s, but the issue has become crucial with at least one mining proposal likely to be submitted for consideration by the government in the near future.

Advocates at the forefront of this campaign are calling for a more even ratio between development and conservation. “The idea is to bring balance back,” Shapelle says.

Mining threatens Helena and Aurora Range

The groups have proposed ‘Class A’ protection for the range under a formal joint-management agreement with traditional owners, the Kalamaia Kapurn people.

Nigel Higgs, from the Department of Parks and Wildlife in Western Australia, says that for environmentally significant developments, impact assessments may be conducted by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

“The provisions of the Mining Act and Environmental Protection Act apply to processes relating to resource development projects,” Nigel told Australian Geographic.

In its 2013 annual report submitted to the government last month, the EPA also recommended that the range be made a ‘Class A’ nature reserve, providing the area with the same protection as biodiversity hotspots like Ningaloo Reef.

Brian Moyle, from the Wildflower Society of Western Australia, says this is the only way to ensure that this range will be protected.

“The banded iron formation range is not secure in a conservation area,” Brian says. “It needs to become a national park.”

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