Richards Bay Minerals (RBM), a company jointly owned by Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, began mining heavy minerals in coastal dunes northeast of Richards Bay in 1977. Following discussions with the local landowner and Government, a decision was made to establish plantations for future development of a charcoal industry and indigenous coastal forests. The objective of RBM’s dune forest rehabilitation programme is the restoration of the biodiversity and function of a typical local coastal dune forest.
The first rehabilitation was carried out in 1978. Monitoring and research programmes have been conducted since 1991. Much of this has work been carried out by the University of Pretoria’s Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU), whose studies have focused on the development of plant and animal communities, and ecosystem function.
CERU have concluded that rehabilitation is likely to be successful provided source areas remain intact. This is because more than ten years of monitoring data show that, in general, the compositional and structural attributes of the regenerating flora and fauna, together with those of soil characteristics, are converging towards those typical of undisturbed forests in the region. Further time will be required for tree diversity and species composition, as well as faunal communities, to fully match those of unmined forests. The studies are continuing to provide RBM valuable feedback for the rehabilitation programme, and will prove extremely valuable in the implementation of its sustainable mine closure strategy. For additional information see www.richardsbayminerals.co.za.