Tasmania and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Mining and the Tarkine : The Facts

It's an important history of Balance and Co-existence

There are many things said about the Tarkine area. Many parts of this area, like Tasmania’s diverse landscape overall, evoke strong emotion for its breathtaking beauty.

The west coast of Tasmania has many rich and diverse aspects. Strong Aboriginal heritage, colonial convict past, mineral-rich geography, stunning natural environments, roaring coastlines and resilient locals to highlight a few.

For over 150 years, this area has been used for a range of purposes – mining, tourism, specialty timbers and farming to name a few. It’s a patchwork of landscapes balanced with communities and the industries that sustain them.

It is a special place and means many things to many people, and its future relies on evidence-based, sustainable management. We’ve collated some facts to provide context and correct misinformation. 

Did you know?

Mining leases cover less than 1% of Tasmania’s land mass yet generate
more than 64% of Tasmania’s export income.

Fast Numbers

439,000 hectares

The approximate size of the Tarkine area.

465 hectares

The amount of Open Cut mine space operating in the Tarkine area.

1%

The total amount of the Tarkine area that would be used if all proposed mining developments were approved.

1870

The year from which mineral exploration and extraction began and has operated continually since.

Getting the Balance, Sharing the Facts

When was takayna / Tarkine named?

The area was first given an identity and described by the conservation movement as the Tarkine around 1991. The dual name takayna in palawa kani, the revived language of Tasmanian Aborigines, was first gazetted in 2014. The Tarkiner people, who once occupied the coastal region near Sandy Cape, were one of three Aboriginal tribes on the West Coast.

While the name for this region is relatively new, we genuinely respect the important cultural heritage of the land among other attributes for management. We support the goal of recognising the Aboriginal people who lived, worked and cared for this land for many thousands of years as well as supporting ongoing reconciliation initiatives, truth-telling and expanded learning of local traditions.

Interesting Reading:

What determines the boundary?

The Tarkine area is loosely framed by the Arthur River in the North, the Pieman River in the South, the coastline to the West and the Murchison Highway in the East. These are not boundaries that determine ecological significance of specific but rather convenient boundaries to help define the location.

This ‘general area’ has become a brand that already contains other locations. 

An ABC article from 2009: https://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2009/05/13/2563616.htm

How big is the Tarkine area?

The area is massive, almost twice the size of the ACT and around 110km from the South Eastern tip to the North Western corner which is around the same distance from Hobart to Campbelltown, or Bell Bay to Cradle Mountain.

In 2004, a nomination to have the area listed on the National Heritage List specified an area of 439,000 hectares (or around 320,000 football fields). This listing was denied, however 36,000 hectares (the coastal strip of the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area) was approved in recognition of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. 

In a recent media report on Channel 7’s Spotlight, Charles Wooley, listed the Tarkine area at 500,000ha. This is incorrect and represents a massive margin of error. For more context the area of Open Cut mines in this entire area is just 465 hectares so a 61,000 hectare margin of error completely skews the context for evidence based land management. We call on journalists to utilise facts when informing the public. 

"I care about the environment which is why I work in the mining industry"

Is it a World Heritage Site?

No. It’s not included in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area, covering around 20% of Tasmania’s land mass including areas such as Cradle Mountain (shown on the interactive map).

While some campaigners often refer to its “world heritage values” this does not mean it has a world heritage listing. Like much of Tasmania, it contains high-value cultural end ecological landscapes but has some areas of low conservation value.

Activists have admitted that only around 90% of the area is worthy of high conservation status, and rainforests account for between 100,000 and 190,000 hectares of the Tarkine area, depending on who makes the claim. Nominations for world heritage or national heritage listing have been rejected multiple times. In 2013, conservation groups agreed that some areas within the river and highway boundary did not meet the high conservation value forest definition for reserve under the Tasmanian Forest Agreement.

In 2004, the Federal Government considered a request to list the Tarkine area on the Natural Heritage List. In 2013, the Federal Government decided that only 36,000 hectares should be listed. The remaining 403,000 hectares were assessed against eight criteria by experts and were not considered suitable for listing.

For the record, the Tasmanian Minerals, Manufacturing and Energy Council does support listing high conservation areas that meet the specific criteria of such protected areas – this may include rainforests and National Parks within the Tarkine area. We would be happy to be part of those constructive discussions to continue the balance.

Is the Tarkine a National Park or Conservation Area?

It is not a National Park, although the area contains one. The vegetation landscape of the total area is diverse, from sand dunes to rainforest to mines and forestry, with a lot of historical land use, including grazing. It contains the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area and the Savage River National Park, as well as many regional reserves or nature recreation areas. Within these reserves are many species that deserve care and protection from all of us, including responsible mining practices in any neighbouring area. 

Is the Tarkine a Rainforest?

It is not a rainforest, but it does contain rainforest.

According to the National Heritage List nomination, the area includes 190,000 hectares of rainforest. Bob Brown has quoted 100,000 hectares of rainforest. So again the amounts stated often vary, but overall this highlights that rainforests within the Tarkine even at the 190,000 hectares in the National Heritage listing, represent at most 40% of the total Tarkine area. 

Therefore, a stunning photo of the Tarkine’s flora in one spot does not represent the flora in all places. 

The findings in the “Final Assessment” document for National Heritage listing stated the following:

Nominator’s Claim: The largest single tract of rainforest in Australia.

Assessment Response: Although the Tarkine does not contain Australia’s largest tract of rainforest (which is the tropical rainforest located mostly within the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area (Hugall et al 2002:6112)), it does contain the largest tract of cool temperate rainforest with a low level of disturbance and therefore is of outstanding national significance for its biogeographical importance to Australians. 

Cool temperate rainforest is uncommon worldwide, with remnants in Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Siberia and western North America. Tasmania’s cool temperate rainforest represents the best-developed and most floristically complex form of this vegetation association in Australia, and the most extensive occurrences of it are in the northwest of the state (Jarman et al 1987:9 and Read 1999:163). The cool temperate rainforest within the Tarkine has a high level of connectivity, and creates a large tract of rainforest. In contrast, the rainforest in the south and southwest of Tasmania is less continuous and often occurs in a mosaic with eucalypt forest and woodland, scrub, heath and buttongrass moorland. Although cool temperate rainforest also occurs in Victoria and New South Wales, its distribution there is fragmented and mostly confined to gullies or cloud forest (Jarman et al 1999:145).  

Source: National Heritage Listing Final Assessment

How much of the Tarkine is under mining operation?

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that mining requires compliance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) to provide legal protection for Outstanding Universal Value through a long and detailed process including a diverse range of heritage, environment, and safety management plans in addition to any business case from geological exploration. Preparing the information for approvals is a long and detailed process requiring on-site assessments to occur, but most sites are either deemed unfeasible by the proposer or they may not pass the stringent compliance requirements. 

There are currently 465ha of open-cut mines within the prescribed Tarkine area. That’s not 465,000, just 465ha. 0.12% of the approximate Tarkine land area. Over the past 150 years, there have been at least 173 mineral extraction sites. 

Unfortunately, Dr Bob Brown said in a recent report, that “Right now, 90 per cent of the Tarkine / Takayna is under mining tenure.” As you can see from the evidence and numbers, this is far from true. 

How has mining impacted the environment on the West Coast?

In many photos of the area you will see old mining equipment that vegetation has taken over. By today’s rehabilitation standards, that equipment should never have been left there, but in many cases, removing it now would cause more disruption as the forests have re-established. 

Like most industries, you evolve practice when you have better information and when the evidence informs better practice. This has evolved across all aspects of mining, workforce and community including the adoption of benchmarking such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Today’s compliance and approvals process requires a full plan from mine construction across a lifetime of operations through to remediation and rehabilitation of the site. Much like in a rental property, a bond is held to ensure that the remediation will be completed and can be funded as part of the mine shutdown plan.

The industry is also focusing on remediation of waterways. For example, Savage River has seen biodiversity return after many years of work by the mine operators in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment. Preliminary reports on the Savage River Rehabilitation Project are being completed and will be proudly shared with the Tasmanian community in the coming months.

Using science to protect the devils

Mines are required to conduct extensive flora and fauna assessments as part of its Environmental Impact Study under the EPBC Act. These are baseline requirements, but our industry tends to go further than the minimum standard.  As an example, Grange Resources implemented a system to help keep Tasmanian Devils out of harms way on both mine access and public roads.

How is the industry doing more to contribute to the region’s health?

We can all always do more. We’re constantly abreast of new initiatives and technology to make what we do cleaner and smarter and encourage diversity of thought and the people involved to reach the best outcomes.

One example is Grange Resources, who are currently trialling hybrid haul trucks at its Savage River mine. These trucks carry over 200 tonnes of ore from the mine face to the crusher and operate 24 hours a day. They use a lot of diesel, which must also be shipped and trucked to site. A trial of hybrid haul trucks reduces the amount of diesel required and the frequency of transporting diesel to the site. It’s a little more complicated than anyone might initially realise, considering Savage River is a magnetite mine, and magnetic dust around hybrid vehicles can create challenges for wear and tear. This initiative seeks to get more trucks off the roads and significantly reduce the carbon footprint of mine operations. Many initiatives like these are happening across our industries to tackle the challenge of Climate Change.

See the Sustainable Development Goal framework that our industry is committed to

Our industries have also been a lead partner in creating the State Governments Strategic Regional Partnership Agreement (SRPA) to apply a robust and collaborative approach across the community to crack the problems of declining populations and the subsequent spiral downwards of services and amenities in the West Coast area. 

Isn’t tourism more important?

Everything humans do has an impact, including tourism, especially when you add the carbon footprint of air travel. But rather than determine which is more important, we suggest that both can co-exist in the diverse landscapes within the Tarkine area as it already does across Tasmania. As previously stated, the Tarkine area is 110 km from one corner to the other. Tourism has continued to grow despite mines being in operation continually since 1870 and even when mining practices were less sustainable and ecologically focused than today. 

While COVID was (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, it’s important to recognise that mining was one of few industries that could continue operating throughout that period due to our high levels of safety and protection. During the crisis, this was critical to sustaining the Tasmanian (and Australian) economy.

What does the West Coast contribute to the Tasmanian economy?

Tasmania’s diverse geography and, in particular, the west coast is a gift with immense potential for creating a sustainable economy in the region and for the state.

More West Coast Council area residents worked in mining than any other industry, with the same number again from Tasmania’s North and North-west coasts. In addition, these mines support many other businesses across Tasmania for their engineering, catering, and construction needs and major industries requiring these raw minerals that wouldn’t be based in Tasmania if not for mining. The ripple effect is immense and cannot be replaced or retrained by any other industry.

Mining is the largest export earner for Tasmania, driving 64.9% of export income despite using less than 1 per cent of our land mass. The diverse beauty of the Tarkine area still exists because that balance has been working. The future is also bright as contemporary environmental management has changed rapidly over the past decades, not just to minimise future impact but to remediate legacy issues of decades and centuries.

Tasmania’s West Coast and Tarkine area are prime examples of diverse land-use management, where recreation, cultural heritage, conservation, industry and communities have co-existed successfully for generations. By working together to strike the right balance, we can co-exist for many more. 

* We have done our very best to cross reference all information and separate official numbers from misinformation. If you believe any of our facts are incorrect or unclear, or can assist us to provide more information for our readers, please use the form at the bottom of the page to ask us questions or send us a source for your updated information. 

Download the Activity Map

With around 439,000 hectares, this area spans over 100km from one corner to another. It’s a diverse landscape so we’ve collated a map to summarise historical and current land use activities.

Do you have a question we haven't answered yet?

We’re proud of the work and care we put into balancing all aspects of responsible mining. If we haven’t answered your question, please submit it here, and we’ll ask the appropriate experts in their field to return with an answer. 

Discover more

Tassie’s Diverse West Coast & the Tarkine

Learn about the multi-use of the diverse landscape on the West Coast and Tarkine area with our interactive digital map.

Tasmania and the Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are a global framework to ensure we make a positive impact on people, planet and prosperity. It's part of our commitment to a better world.

What is the Circular Economy?

The circular economy offers a win-win scenario by aligning economic prosperity with environmental sustainability and social well-being. It provides opportunities for businesses to thrive, promotes resource efficiency, reduces environmental impact, and contributes to a more resilient and equitable society.