Impacts of mine-derived pollution on Torres Strait environments and communities

Simon Apte
Led by: Dr Simon Apte, CSIRO

 

Project Summary

This study addresses concerns regarding the impacts of mine-derived pollution on the marine resources of the Torres Strait. Using state of the art procedures, trace metal concentrations in marine waters and sediments will be determined at locations across the Torres Strait. Chemical signatures of mine pollution will be measured in waters and sediments and hotspots of contamination identified. The water quality data generated will allow informed management decisions to be made on how to best address trans-boundary mining related pollution.
 

Problem Statements

Problem

The Ok Tedi copper mine has operated in the headwaters of the Fly River system since 1984 and practices in-river tailings disposal whereby metal-rich sediments and waters are discharged directly into the river system. This has resulted in significant impacts on the river system including widespread contamination of the Fly River by copper (which is highly toxic to aquatic life), increased turbidity and changes to river geomorphology through widespread deposition of sediments. Given the close proximity of the Torres Strait to the mouth of the Fly River concerns have been raised since the start of mine operations that trans-boundary pollution may occur – particularly during certain flood events affecting the Fly River. CSIRO has studied the impacts of mine pollution for over 25 years and recent data for copper in the Fly River estuary indicate some increase in the copper content of waters and sediments (Angel et al, 2010, 2014 available at: http://tinyurl.com/otucap7) thus giving rise to further concerns.

How Research Addresses Problem

This study addresses concerns regarding the impacts of mine-derived pollution on the marine resources of the Torres Strait. Using state of the art procedures, trace metal concentrations in marine waters and sediments will be determined at locations across the Torres Strait. Chemical signatures of mine pollution will be measured in waters and sediments and hotspots of contamination identified.

The project will provide actual data on the concentrations of a range of potentially toxic metal contaminants in waters and sediments from the Torres Strait. By analysing information on future developments at Ok Tedi, the project will also provide a forward view of contaminant issues as mine life proceeds over the next 20 to 40 years.

It should be noted at aside from data generated by CSIRO in the late 1990s there are no accurate data on dissolved trace metal concentrations in the waters of the Torres Strait. This is a significant knowledge gap that will be addressed by the proposed study.

The water quality data generated will allow informed management decisions to be made on how to best address trans-boundary mining related pollution.

Alignment with NESP Research Priorities

NESP priority 5: Identify and evaluate emerging water quality and ecosystem threats to the Far Northern GBR and Torres Strait by runoff from the Fly River.

 

Project Keywords

Torres Strait; Mining impacts; Risk assessment; Water quality.
 

Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through CSIRO and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme.
 

Project Publications
nesp-twq-project-2-2-1-2-2-2-factsheet
Factsheet

 

 

 

 

 

Project Map

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