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A crab the size of a ten cent piece might stop the development of mining giant Rio Tinto’s $900 million Cape York bauxite mine.
Scientists employed by Rio to undertake an environmental analysis of the north Queensland site have found what is thought to be a new freshwater crab species.
They have also discovered a shrimp not previously recorded in Australia.
The findings have prompted conservationists to call on federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to immediately halt the project.
The Wilderness Society’s Glenn Walker told news.com.au the crab species would be under threat if the project’s proposed 30,000ha bush clearing went ahead.
He said the mine development also risked destroying a river in the area.
Walker said while Rio wanted to go ahead with the mine its developments should be put on hold until a proper environmental analysis was complete.
He said federal laws should delay the mine’s construction.
"The crab hasn’t even yet been assessed for protection under federal environment laws, which would likely list the species as endangered and potentially stall approval of the mine," he said.
The crab has been referred to Queensland Museum senior curator of crustacean Peter Davie.
Davie said he thought the find was unique, but it would take around two years to confirm it.
“We have very little information for freshwater crabs but they are all potentially endangered or vulnerable,” he said.
A Rio spokesperson said the company was happy it had contributed to the environmental study of the area.
“We’ve had the best experts out there studying the area … and we’re pleased to have been able to make a contribution to understanding the ecology of the cape,” he said.
Rio said the crustaceans were unlikely to be significantly impacted by its mining developments but it was now up to the State and Federal governments to asses the study’s findings.