Mining – particularly surface mining and mountain removal mining – frequently causes long-term and sometimes irreversible impact on ecosystems and biodiversity. Erosion and destruction of coral reefs and mango swamps are common. Surface mining also destroys large areas of land. When mines are decommissioned, large holes in the ground remain, and spills involving heavy metals, acids, and toxic chemicals can continue for many years after mining operations have ceased.

Some examples

  • At the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia, the company that operates the mine has re-routed the Arroyo river in a specially dug 3.6km long channel to access coal reserves on the river bed. Villagers in the area claimed that this would cause severe damage to the delicate ecosystem and biodiversity around the river. This would impact pasture used for livestock, fish in the river and water access for a large number of villages. A court ruled that roundtable talks should be held to decide whether the river should be returned to its original position. The mining company has been accused of failing to follow the court’s ruling when representatives from the affected villages were not invited to participate in talks that resulted in the company deciding not to return the river to its original course.
  • China is the world’s largest producer of rare earth metals that are used in many products such as smartphones, TV screens and engines for electric vehicles. Extraction of these metals requires extensive use of chemicals and generates large amounts of toxic and radioactive waste. Outside the industrial city of Baotou in Mongolia, an enormous toxic lake has formed by mining waste being dumped there over many years. The area, which used to be arable farmland, has been destroyed and the waste has poisoned the groundwater and surrounding land. Farmers have been robbed of their livelihoods as harvests and livestock have been affected and have been forced to move away.

Jazmin Romero on the bank of the river Arroyo in Colombia. Villagers protested against the mining company Cerrejón’s plans to re-route the river. Photo: Javier De la Cuadra

  • The Philippines’ worst mining disaster

    Twenty years after a mining accident in which a dam burst on the island of Marinduque in the Philippines, the affected area is still yet to recover. Three to four million tonnes of toxic mine waste from copper extraction was released into a river system causing fish and shellfish in the Boac river to die, as did livestock that drank the water. Marine ecosystems disappeared, as mangroves, seaweed and coral were destroyed and trees along the river died. Following the disaster, villagers were forced to travel many kilometres to collect water.

    In the wake of the accident, the government ordered the closure of the mine. Mining company Marcopper was accused of simply stopping operations and abandoning the mine. The company has failed to take responsibility for compensating those affected by the disaster or for rehabilitating the areas that have been destroyed.

    “The damage caused by the mining disaster at Marcopper were enormous,” Imelda Diaz, regional environment and natural resources official on Marinduque tells Business Mirror. “It wasn’t just the trees that were destroyed – it was the entire ecosystem. Even the coast and the marine ecosystem was destroyed. The damage caused by the spill are well documented.”