Springing into the future

An innovative new research project at Olympic Dam will seek to conserve and enhance biodiversity through the application of emerging research techniques used to test and monitor animal species located within the asset area.  

The project, titled BHP-Curtin Alliance eDNA for Global Environment Studies - Subterranean Fauna Detection and Conservation, uses environmental DNA (eDNA) to create a functional biomonitoring tool that provides additional information on biodiversity and has the potential to be used by both industry and government. eDNA is the biological material deposited by organisms into their habitat (terrestrial or aquatic) and can be isolated from a variety of substrates such as soil, water, and air through non-invasive sampling techniques as opposed to traditional biodiversity monitoring methods that are often time consuming and require niche specialist expertise.  

The Olympic Dam area includes the Great Artesian Basin (the Basin), which supports an estimated 7,000 individual springs in 450 spring groups scattered across the Basin area. These natural flowing artesian springs are a water source for a variety of threatened, endemic, and relict species. The project’s scope included developing high-resolution eDNA tools for monitoring genetic diversity and changes in the groups of organisms located within the Basin’s subterranean ecosystems. When the opportunity to test the benefits of eDNA technology was identified, BHP worked collaboratively with leading academics from Curtin University and the University of Adelaide to co-design the project ensuring world-class research was aligned with industry needs.   

BHP provided funding for this voluntary project through social investment. This research will assist industry in making informed decisions on managing species with very limited ranges or occurrences. Novel techniques for identifying and monitoring biodiversity is expected to play an integral role in contributing to societal efforts to halt and reverse current trends in nature loss. 

This project is being led by representatives from Curtin University and the Olympic Dam environment team, along with representatives from the Traditional Owner group, the Arabana, who completed the field sampling to collect spring water, bore water and spring invertebrates.