eDNA – a route to a safer biodiversity survey

Published: 28th April 2021

Responsible mining and metals companies have an unwavering commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing of workers and their families, local communities and wider society (ICMM 2021).

eDNA is a cutting-edge tool that can help mitigate HSE risk during biodiversity surveys and routine environmental monitoring.

In the mining industry, safety processes, practices, and standards are a huge part of everyone’s day-to-day working activities. Mines are a complex human engineering system, usually operated by hundreds of employees who can be exposed to multi-faceted risk. When it comes to biodiversity surveys as well as routine Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) monitoring, industry leading mines spend significant amounts of time and money to perform them in the safest possible manner. All mine employees will receive comprehensive health and safety training; as a result, teams of specialists conducting conventional biodiversity surveys will be required to undertake an induction, complete habitat specific risk assessments and specialized training before surveying on-site is permitted. Since mining sites are often located in remote or harsh climatic areas, there are also risks associated with navigating terrain, especially given the time required to perform biodiversity surveys using traditional methods.

Using eDNA to survey biodiversity on mining sites can help reduce these risks. Here are three ways that eDNA can help reduce health and safety risks, address risk management capability and implement critical controls on mining sites during biodiversity surveys:

Reducing risk involved during the sampling process

Data collection from mines in remote areas necessitates careful preparation and resource-intensive fieldwork such as bird transects, mist netting, small mammal trapping, herpotofauna quadrat sampling (often requiring teams of specialists). These methods are limited in their ability to detect temporal patterns, are often limited to small spatial scales, and can result in significant sampling error. Furthermore, the conditions pose health and safety risks; for example, most traditional freshwater sampling methods necessitate prolonged periods of time wading in streams and rivers with invertebrate nets, electro shockers or fishing nets. People must also manage landscape hazards and are generally limited to sampling in a small window of opportunity when weather permits. Using eDNA, samples for data collection can be taken without requiring access to potentially hazardous areas and even during the off-season. Water samples can be easily obtained from banks, eliminating the need for someone to enter the water, which removes several health and safety risks. One water sample can be used to detect a range of taxa (e.g. samples used for fish can also be used to detect, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians) with no additional sampling effort – thus reducing the total time in the field.

 

Reducing the need for large specialist teams to be on site

Although many experts and ecologists use our DNA based tools, our kits do not explicitly call for the use of experts. The simplicity at which anyone can collect data is one of the major advantages of DNA-based monitoring. This brings data into the hands of those who need it without reliance on external expertise. Our eDNA sampling kits are portable and come with easy-to-follow instructions. Because of its simplicity, large-scale data collection projects can be carried out by on-site HSE personnel who are already familiar with health and safety protocols. This removes the need for survey teams made up of various types of experts to visit the site and in the process can be used to upskill HSE staff, thereby saving costs. As a result, mining sites can restrict the number of people who come on site for sampling purposes which is a great health and safety benefit.

Enabling autonomous sampling on site to reduce risks to humans 

The use of DNA-based tools reduces the need for personnel when sampling, which can be beneficial to improving health and safety for mine biodiversity monitoring. Other tools and technologies, such as water bailers, automated samplers and drones, can be used in conjunction with the sampling kits. These can be used to collect water samples for filtering without requiring the presence of humans in dangerous or inaccessible areas. This is still a work in progress but expect to see many new innovations appearing in this area this year.

 

Our mining clients always emphasise how important it is to avoid hazard for employees and contractors at all costs preventing unnecessary risks to workers. Our clients are starting to use eDNA to ensure that they reduce health and safety risks when conducting biodiversity surveys throughout the lifecycle of their mining projects. When eDNA methods are used on mines, our customers are less restricted in terms of when and how they can track biodiversity. This will make it easier for mines to get year-round data that will help them make decisions that will be beneficial for people, nature, and business.

To see how NatureMetrics are already putting these DNA-based solutions into practice with projects in the extractives sector around the globe, check out our articles and updates in the NatureMetrics info hub.

Authors: Dr Vere Ross-Gillespie, Ropafadzo Mugadza
By Published On: 28th April 2021Categories: Articles, Infrastructure

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