An interesting article in The Age newspaper this morning reports a collaboration between BHP Billiton, the worlds largest mining company, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science. The collaboration aims to document the diversity in coral reefs – no small effort considering it is estimated that the number of species that inhabit reefs is greater than one million! This is set to be an exciting project, especially as it is documenting both the Great Barrier Reef (Heron & Lizard Islands) and Ningaloo Reef. Read more over at Creefs, and The Age article below.
BHP digs deep for reefs plan
September 3, 2007
CORAL reefs are probably the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. But just how diverse is not known, according to Ian Poiner, chief executive of tropical marine research agency, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).
Estimates of the number of species that make coral reefs their home ranges between one and 9 million.
“They are relatively small areas — less than 2 per cent of the ocean area — but they are incredibly important, both from an environmental, social and economic perspective,” said Dr Poiner.
The knowledge gap is now being redressed in CReefs, the coral reef component of the Census of Marine Life, a global research effort involving 80 nations in a 10-year study into the diversity and distribution of marine life in oceans.
Last week resources giant BHP Billiton announced $3.4 million in financial support for the Australian leg of the CReefs program. It is BHP’s biggest ever backing of an environmental research project.
The BHP and AIMS partnership brokered by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation ensures three Australian reef sites will be included in CReefs — the Great Barrier Reef’s Heron and Lizard Islands, and Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.
The project will enable marine scientists and taxonomists to collect and identify samples during a series of field trips over four years, with the census on biodiversity aimed at improving understanding of coral reefs and how best to protect them.
Great Barrier Reef Foundation chief executive Judy Stewart said that the partnership had delivered urgently needed private funding into the reef research sector.
“Understanding coral reef biodiversity is critical to securing their future,” she said. “We need to understand how reefs operate in order to protect and preserve them.”
BHP’s vice-president of sustainable development and community relations, Ian Wood, said that the sponsorship of the research effort fell under BHP’s commitment to sustainable development.
“Part of that is to ensure that our host communities benefit from their relationship with us,” Mr Wood said. “So as well as paying taxes and royalties and employing lots of people and those sort of standard business contributions to an economy, we want to ensure that our host communities directly benefit from our presence.”
BHP ships huge amounts of minerals from Townsville on the Great Barrier Reef’s doorstep and it has major oil and gas production interests offshore WA’s north-west, home to Ningaloo.
BHP has a target of spending 1 per cent of its annual pre-tax profit on community programs. More than $US100 million ($A122 million) was spent last year. Because of the group’s increasing profits, target expenditure in 2007-08 will be about $US130 million.