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A research project by Massey University's Dr Chris Anderson that uses plants to remove mercury and gold from soil, has led to a new major research centre in Indonesia that will help restore land degraded by mining.
The International Research Centre for the Management of Degraded and Mining Lands will be officially opened at Brawijaya University in Malang later in the year.
The centre, of which Massey is a founding partner, will see collaborative research carried out with partners Brawijaya University, the University of Mataram and the Institute of Geochemistry of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The centre has grown out of the research project started by Dr Anderson over ten years ago and in part funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's NZAid programme. “I was working on a project on remediation techniques for mercury-contaminated soil,” he says. “The contamination has come about through the illegal use of mercury by small-scale gold miners in Indonesia.”
Dr Anderson developed a technique to use plants to remove the mercury from the degraded land. “We use plants to get the mercury out of the ground, but the plants can also remove gold,” he says. “So there is revenue that comes out of the plants because we get the gold that can then pay for not only the clean-up, but for education and opportunities for sustainable agricultural development. This provides the incentive.”
The technique has gained the support of both governmental and non-governmental organisations in Indonesia. The scope of research has grown over time, however, and the collaborative research has expanded to include a range of environmental projects.
He says the next step was the creation of the research centre. Its first formal event was a conference in February, where Dr Anderson was a keynote speaker. “We signed a letter of intent there that created the centre, and a formal memorandum of understanding will be signed later in the year.”
The centre would provide opportunities for researchers and post-graduate students from Massey and in Indonesia to work together on some of the major environmental issues facing the developing country, Dr Anderson says.