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Hydro’s Biodiversity project in Brazil’s rainforest

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Hydro’s collaborative research project in Brazil aims to restore and protect biodiversity.

With our bauxite mine situated in an area earlier covered with rainforest, Hydro has set a goal to balance the opening of mining area with reforested areas by 2017 and has a long-term aspiration of no net loss of biodiversity. One of the actions to meet these goals – to establish a research program on biodiversity and climate change – is now starting to materialize.

When Hydro acquired the bauxite mine in Paragominas in Pará, Brazil, in 2011, we also inherited a large responsibility. Although only a small part of the area planned for mining was pristine forest when Hydro became involved, we still want to take part in bringing biodiversity back in the entire area. With around 50 years of human activity in Paragominas, a large part of the land has been affected by logging, cattle ranching or farming, and about 15 percent of the forest in this area is pristine rainforest.

“Hydro’s ambition is to return the already altered areas back to a better condition than before Hydro arrived. The pristine rainforest is mainly located in small valleys and along creeks and will be preserved under Hydro’s activities. We believe that we will be able to make a positive contribution to this land through our reforestation actions. Our research initiative on biodiversity is key in meeting these goals,” says Bernt Malme, Hydro’s environmental manager.


Seedlings are an important part of the re-vegetation project. (Photo: Øyvind Breivik, Hydro) 

Framework in place

The first scientific workshop of the Biodiversity Research Consortium Brazil-Norway (BRC) (see fact box) was held in Paragominas in November 2013. Here all the member institutions presented relevant work on biodiversity monitoring and research. In the initial phase the focus has been to assess the reforestation and monitoring work started by Hydro. A considerable amount of work has been put in place on revegetation and biodiversity surveying and monitoring already.

“In order to strengthen Hydro’s existing biodiversity monitoring and restorations activities, the consortium has presented three defined research projects for Hydro’s consideration” says Torkjell Leira, an advisor at the Department of Research and Collections, Natural History Museum, University of Oslo.

The first research project is related to overall biodiversity, soil quality, biomass in soils and vegetation and reforestation test fields. A second project will look in to CO2 and methane releases from the mining area and areas under restoration with different methods, while the final project will be examining Mycorrhiza – a fungus that provides nutrition and water from the soil to trees in a symbiosis.

A mobility project associated with the consortium and financed jointly by SIU (Norway) and CAPES (Brazil) has been initiated. This project involves mobility of students and academic staff as well as joint teaching, mainly at Master’s and PhD level concerning biodiversity of tropical fungi. In Brazil, two master’s theses concerning mammals are also in the pipeline at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) as a result of the new cooperation.

“There is an excellent cooperation between Hydro, UiO and the institutions in Brazil. After the initial mapping of the conditions in Paragominas and the competencies in the consortium, we are now at the starting line of this work, all eager to get started,” Leira says.

Nucleation – a new and promising technique for reforestation

There are several possible techniques for reforestation, and Hydro started to implement a new and promising technique called “nucleation” in January 2013. The method involves an uneven distribution of topsoil to simulate natural landscape and trap rainwater. Piles of cut wood are distributed to increase biodiversity by creating shelters for insects and animals and improving growing conditions for fungi and plants. Research on the method so far shows promising results.

Hydro experienced some challenges when starting up with this technique, however, and some of the replanted areas had to be reclassified as an area to be rehabilitated. There is an ongoing process to optimize the technique based on the experiences gained and to prepare for large-scale implementation.

“For all restoration methods, the access to high quality seeds and seedlings is a challenge. In order to rebuild a diverse and healthy forest, a large variety of species and genes within the seed pool is essential,” Leira says.

To start to meet this challenge, Hydro has established a nursery for seedlings and epiphytes with a capacity to produce hundreds of thousands of seedlings per year.

Documentation and monitoring

A wide range of actions will document the conditions in both pristine forest and reforested areas, including registering the variety of species in untouched areas. This information will serve as important guidelines in the rehabilitation.

In already reforested areas, there is some initial monitoring of the regrowth of plants and reoccurrence of animal life. Cameras have been installed to track mammals passing, and platforms are built in trees to monitor the phenology of trees. This work will need to be escalated even more as the work continues.

“At the moment, Hydro is able to register which animal species are present in the areas. A UiO pilot project has placed 30 camera traps all over the Hydro Paragominas property to strengthen the monitoring of large mammals such as jaguar and tapir. But even more cameras are needed to track the number of individual mammals, their habitat and to detect population trends,” Leira says.

Long-term view is essential

Since the bauxite mine was opened in 2006, the work on reforestation is at the very beginning. The first attempts to start to rehabilitate the mining areas were initiated by Vale, the former owner, in 2008. Fridtjof Mehlum, head of Department of Research and Collections at the Natural History Museum, University of Oslo, underscores the importance of having a long-term view on this process.

“It will take time, but research done on other replanted areas shows that the biomass will have grown back in 50 years. To get back the diversity of plants, another 50 years will be needed, while a total of 150 years is necessary to get back the diversity of animals. Of course there are species that will require even older habitats, but the majority of species do not depend on several-hundred-year-old trees,” Mehlum says.

“We are positive of the work Hydro has initiated. I think we are all aware that there will be obstacles and that we must take in to account that this is a challenging, long-term process, but with systematic efforts and sufficient funding we are confident that this work will have a positive contribution.”

(The article was originally published in http://www.hydro.com. The author of the article is Ingrid Caroline Persson Hager, who is a Consultant -Viability Reporting for Norsk Hydro ASA. You can get in touch with her at Ingrid.Hager@hydro.com )

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