Centre Européen
de Recherche et d'Enseignement
des Géosciences de l'Environnement

Zoom on ... Marocco

Research on mining activities in Marocco

The CEREGE Sustainable Environment team is strongly involved in activities in Morocco, thanks to the dynamism and tools of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). Among the actions developed around natural resources and renewable energies by the IRD, the team has initiated a collaboration with the young team associated with the IRD (JEAI) PHYTOMET in the framework of an internal AAP of CEREGE (APIC 2019).

Morocco is known for its numerous mining sites, including several sites for the extraction of metallic elements (TMEs), in particular lead and zinc. Their exploitation during several decades has led to the accumulation of thousands of tons of tailings, most of them abandoned in the open air. These tailings, rich in potentially highly toxic metallic elements and metalloids (ETMM), are the source of significant environmental contamination. In addition, due to sparse and scarce vegetation cover and very active erosion in these semi-arid to arid regions, metals have been dispersed several kilometers from the original sites by wind and surface water runoff to nearby inhabited areas. The contamination thus aggravated can become a very serious public health problem, for although these mines and smelters are mostly closed to this day, the inhabitants who worked there have very often remained to live there and are beginning to develop agricultural activities of cultivation and breeding.

In a process of reduction/mitigation of contamination and protection of these environments, the implementation of a phytoremediation approach (phytoextraction and/or phytostabilization) of these polluted sites is one of the unavoidable strategies, in order to limit the risks generated for human health. However, at present, the main obstacle to the development of phytoremediation lies in the small number of species that can potentially be used at the scale of the impacts considered, the low biomass of most of the plants used, as well as the lack of knowledge about the physiological mechanisms and genetic determinism of tolerance, accumulation and hyperaccumulation of metals.

The JEAI PHYTOMET is therefore developing, in the continuity of its previous work, its knowledge in this field on several sites, in particular in the north-east of Morocco in the Touissite-Oujda-Oued El Heimer region (former lead mines).

Because of its complementary skills, the team wanted to join this approach through the APIC 2019 project (internal CEREGE's call) which had for objectives :

  • To contribute to the in-depth characterization of the two abandoned mine sites through the study of the biogeochemical cycle of ETMMs and critical metals.
  • To identify the determinants of the bioavailability of TMEs in the soil and the tolerance of local plants to ETMMs, including via the metal-silicon relationships in the soil and plants.
  • To evaluate the potential of the two sites in terms of soil remediation and waste recovery in order to propose development solutions to the inhabitants of the mining territories, towards a more circular economy.
  • To build a sustainable and complementary partnership between CEREGE and our Moroccan partners: to access a particularly interesting study site on which the Moroccan team already has experience and to collaborate with researchers specialized in plant physiology and genomics, to offer our skills in solid characterization, knowledge in soil science, skills for the study of bioavailability and soil-plant transfers in general.

This collaboration was a real springboard for the financing of the AMIR International Joint Laboratory: Responsible Mining: Issues, Challenges and Solutions in Morocco (2020-2024, led by Fabrice Colin for CEREGE).​


Plants, 2020, https://doi.org/10.3390/plants9111458

Authors: Said El Hasnaoui, Mouna Fahr, Catherine Keller, Clément Levard, Bernard Angeletti, Perrine Chaurand, Zine El Abidine Triqui, Abdelkarim Guedira, Laila Rhazi, Fabrice Colin and Abdelaziz Smouni

More info ...