What Are the Effects of Open Pit Mining on Animals?

Open pit mines consume large areas, leading to the deforestation and the destruction of the ecosystem.
Open pit mines consume large areas, leading to the deforestation and the destruction of the ecosystem. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Open pit mining differs from traditional tunnel mining. Companies choose this alternative because it is one of the easiest and cheapest forms of mining. In open pit mining, the top and subsequent layers of the ground are cleared using explosives until rocks and minerals are exposed and a large open pit remains. Later the pit can be used as a landfill, but the ground will never be the same. Open pit mining has many adverse effects on animal populations.

Habitat Degradation

To create the space for open pit mining, the surrounding land is clear cut and stripped of plant life. Animals lose their homes as their habitats are destroyed. When an animal loses its habitat, it is compromised, sometimes resulting in death. The construction and machinery associated with open pit mining can also lead to the destruction of animal habitats as miners move in and out of remote mining sites. Roads may also need to be constructed, leading to further degradation of animal habitats.

Destruction of Food Sources

Food sources that animals rely on are completely destroyed at the mining site. Many animals eat the vegetation that is cleared away and are forced to search for food elsewhere. This upsets the entire food chain. The ground in and around the open pit mine is also rendered useless due to open pit mining. Re-growth is almost impossible due to soil degradation, meaning that animals cannot return.

Water Pollution

Water sources that animals rely on for food and hydration are also polluted. Entire aquatic ecosystems can suffer as groundwater near the mine becomes polluted and washes into the water supply. Loads of sediment from erosion around the mine also wash into the water supply, killing fish and aquatic life. Many predators rely on fish and other aquatic life as a food source. Toxic compounds such as sulfuric acid and metal oxides generated by the mine wash into groundwater.

Other Effects

These mines have other adverse effects on animal populations. Large amounts of dust are generated in the creation of an open pit mine. Breathing this dust is harmful to human and animal populations. The noise dynamite and explosives used to create the mine typically frightens animals and drives them from the area. In some remote areas, animals also face the threat of miners who will hunt animals in addition to working at the mine.

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