Too Close for Comfort

Many of the world’s metal mines are close to protected areas, scientists report in Biological Conservation. That’s worrisome news because the environmental degradation caused by mining can stretch for miles.

Protected areas aren’t evenly distributed around the globe; they tend to cluster in steep areas at high elevations. Since metal mines also are often at high elevations, the study authors wondered how much the two overlapped. The pollution from metal mines can affect ecosystems tens of kilometers away, and nearby mines could endanger the species in a protected area.

The team mapped 1,418 aluminum, copper, iron, and zinc mines and analyzed records of protected areas worldwide. Protected areas contained only about 6.7 percent of the mines, the researchers found. But 27.2 percent of mines were 10 kilometers or less from a protected area. The problem was especially acute in South America and Asia.

The true percentage is probably higher since the study didn’t account for illegal mining, the authors say. Since the demand for metals is growing, mining could encroach on protected areas even more in the future. Roberta Kwok | 25 March 2013

Source: Durán, A.P., J. Rauch, and K.J. Gaston. 2013. Global spatial coincidence between protected areas and metal mining activities. Biological Conservation doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2013.02.003.

Image © Fribus Ekaterina |