Published on
May 14, 2021

How Water Can Help Fingerprint Species at our Mines–by Anglo American

We are working with Anglo American to bring innovative biodiversity solutions to the extractives sector. Anglo American have implemented DNA based monitoring at their mine sites and recently wrote about their experience working with this new technology for the first time.

 min read
How Water Can Help Fingerprint Species at our Mines–by Anglo American
Anglo American and NatureMetrics are working together to bring innovative biodiversity solutions to the extractives sector. We help businesses like Anglo American to assess and manage biodiversity risks at all stages of their projects, from exploration and baselining to closure and restoration. our DNA-based monitoring tools provide data at unprecedented scales, whilst reducing the effort, costs and safety risks typically associated with monitoring biodiversity in the extractives industry.

Here is Anglo American’s own account of their first experience with eDNA:

The following article was originally published by Anglo American on their website here.

We are adopting the use of an exciting technology – environmental DNA (eDNA) – to meet targeted and measurable environmental goals, as part of our Sustainable Mining Plan, and commitments to achieving a net positive impact on global biodiversity.

Using DNA-based tools from biotechnology experts NatureMetrics is revolutionising how we are able to evaluate risk and meet – or even exceed – environmental regulations, monitor progress towards biodiversity targets, as well as reducing monitoring cost and efforts.

As animals interact with their environment, particularly water, they leave behind a trail of genetic material – a fingerprint specific to each species. In water, eDNA breaks down over a period of a few days, so when a species is detected, it means it has been in the area very recently.

Samples often also contain whole organisms, like plankton and microbes, and these help to give a picture of the broader ecosystem at a site, and this level of information is vital in informing environmental impact assessments and conservation efforts on a wider scale.

Once collected, the samples are analysed and the DNA sequences are then compared against reference libraries to identify which species they came from – and literally hundreds of species from different taxonomic groups can be identified from each sample in a single analysis.

Warwick Mostert, Biodiversity Principal at Anglo American, and NatureMetrics have been running a pilot in South Africa and planning to get the local community involved with testing using “citizen science test kits”.

“It really helps, not only with being transparent, but it builds trust. And it’s also interesting and fun!”

Traditionally, monitoring biodiversity has relied on identification by sight and expert taxonomic knowledge but collecting data this way is expensive and time consuming, requiring large teams coming to a site, which in turn creates safety risks.

NatureMetrics’ Vere Ross-Gillespie says rapid surveys of the water using eDNA techniques in the field can provide crucial information on species, helping to manage risk from the earliest stages of a mining project.

And ongoing non-invasive monitoring throughout the entire operational life cycle of a mine can track the nature of impacts on biodiversity at the site and enable the company to minimise those effects and more effectively monitor rehabilitation of an environment, thereby assisting in restoring it to its former ecological state.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant training to carry out the sampling using test kits will have to be done online and Warwick says he is looking forward to interacting with teams on site as soon as travel is permitted.

The future

Over the next five years, he hopes eDNA monitoring will be rolled out at all our sites across the Anglo American portfolio as part of our vision to be recognised as a global leader in environmentally sustainable mining, respected and trusted by our partners and our host communities.

Warwick adds: “It’s got huge applicability. If we think about early on in the discovery and exploration phase, where our knowledge is limited about the potential biodiversity risk in the area that we might be looking to explore, it’s a critical component to that.

“When a mine is in full operation, it will become a key part of the ongoing monitoring and evaluation in terms of our biodiversity performance.

“When we start to get to the point where an operation is coming to closure, it will allow us to make sure the work has been done and we can meet our objective of restoring an environment to better than its pre-mining state.”

And Vere believes the work has even wider implications for the whole industry.

He says: “Through barcoding campaigns and building up genetic reference libraries during the life of a project, these techniques can contribute to science for whole regions, with the data becoming available to other scientists and researchers.

“This is a great long-lasting legacy in addition to enabling a better picture than ever before of how biodiversity is changing in response to impacts.”

To learn more about how NatureMetrics are working with the extractives industry to improve biodiversity surveys whilst reducing risk, visit our extractives page.

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