Tarkine's 500-year-old trees could be bulldozed for Chinese miner's toxic pit

·News and Video Producer
·5-min read

Trees which have stood for over 500 years could be bulldozed if a Chinese mining company's plan to build a waste dump in Tasmania is approved.

An image taken last week by photographer Ted Mead shows a person dwarfed by one of the 40-metre-high, ancient myrtles growing within the Tarkine, in the state's north-west. 

The trees were likely first germinated centuries ago, at a time when William Shakespeare was writing The Tempest, and they have stood protected from wind and erosion in a deep valley within Australia’s largest temperate rainforest until now.

A person looks tiny when standing next to a tree in the Tarkine valley. Source: Ted Mead / Supplied
A person looks tiny when standing next to a tree in the Tarkine valley. Source: Ted Mead / Supplied

The wet Tarkine forest is cold, but seldom drops below zero degrees, and it is largely silent except for the chatter of birds and the occasional industrial sound from the mine across the Pieman River. 

"It's like a different world, being in that forest and only a few miles away you've got the mine," Mr Mead told Yahoo News Australia.

“Anyone who’s been there and is in their right mind wouldn’t consider destroying such a magnificent piece of forest."

Bob Brown urges Chinese mining company to consider alternative plan

The trees sit within a lease held by majority Chinese state-owned enterprise Minerals and Metals Group (MMG), which is seeking to clear up to 285 hectares of wilderness, including the valley where many giant trees grow.

Nine years ago, when the Heritage Council of Australia assessed the wider Tarkine forest, they found that the region has maintained links to the ancient continent of Gondwana and contained lichens and mosses which “help tell the story of Australia’s ancient flora and its evolution”.

Under MMG's plan, a pipeline will carry toxic waste from its mine near the town of Rosebery across the Pieman River and into a dam it plans to build in the Tarkine.

With its other pits now full after 85 years of operation, the company says the project is necessary to extend the life of its zinc, copper and lead mine, which employs 500 people.

MMG plans to extend pipeline from its mine across the Pieman River and into the Tarkine. Source: Supplied
MMG plans to extend pipeline from its mine across the Pieman River and into the Tarkine. Source: Supplied

Veteran environmental campaigner Bob Brown argues the mining company could build its new dam in another direction, which wouldn’t involve destroying the “cathedral like rainforest”.

Rare and endangered animals including the Tasmanian devils, Tasmanian masked-owl and wedge-tailed eagles are known to live within the Tarkine and Mr Brown insists their habitat must be protected.

With patches of the forest already logged, he believes protecting what remains is key to its health. 

“Allowing this line to go ahead in that part of the rainforest would be giving up on the whole of the rainforest in a way,” Mr Brown told Yahoo New Australia.

“It's defies common sense that a multinational corporation like MMG, which has got operations in Africa, in the Arctic, in Peru, as well as in Australia can't do better than this.”

Wildlife stares down barrel of extinction across Australia

Australia’s dismal environmental protection record has been in the global spotlight since the Black Summer bushfires decimated habitat and impacted an estimated 3 billion native animals.

As ecosystems are degraded due to land clearing, pollution and climate change, more animals and plant species could soon be added to the country's growing extinction list.

Platypus have been declared a threatened species in Victoria, koalas could soon be declared endangered across NSW, ACT and Queensland, warnings have been issued that alpine plants are not adapting to warmer temperatures, and UNESCO has released a draft report recommending the Great Barrier Reef be listed as endangered.

Tasmanian devils are one of the rare and endangered species living within the Tarkine. Source: Getty
Tasmanian devils are one of the rare and endangered species living within the Tarkine. Source: Getty

Tasmania remains bitterly divided on the issue of logging and mining verses environmental protection and tourism, however the MMG pipeline has received the backing of Tasmania’s newly re-elected Liberal government.

Forty-eight arrests in 40 days as construction continues

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley is yet to reach a decision on whether its environment impact is acceptable under government’s EPBC Act and has delayed her report until July 23.

Mr Brown said despite inviting Minister Ley to visit the site, as she did when considering NSW-based projects like the mine expansion in Port Stephens and the construction of go-kart track at Mount Panorama, she is yet to respond.

Bob Brown has asked the environment minister to visit the Tarkine. Source: AAP
Bob Brown has asked the environment minister to visit the Tarkine. Source: AAP

While she considers the MMG project, Mr Brown has also called on her to halt the miner's ongoing work to clear a road into what Mr Brown describes as the “heart of the forest”, so it can conduct drilling tests. 

Forty-eight arrests have been made in 40 days by people opposing MMG, including local athletes, elderly community members, farmers, and protesters affiliated with the Bob Brown Foundation.

MMG did not respond to Yahoo News Australia for comment, but company spokesperson Troy Hey told The Guardian on June 6 that its project would have a “relatively small footprint” on the Tarkine.

“We believe that you can balance development and mining sites such as Rosebery and the protection of the natural wilderness of Tasmania,” he said.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley has been contacted for comment.

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