Environment & Conservation


Most people in developed countries understand that it is very important to protect and understand the environment and they are in a better position to understand the effects that industrialization has on the world's environment. This, unfortunately is not the case in lesser-developed areas of the world. In a world with ever shrinking rain forests, and disappearing plant and animal species, Papua New Guinea is perhaps the last frontier. Until recently its lush rain forests and coral reefs had been largely ignored, as many western and Asian countries preferred to do business in other areas closer to home. Now, however, PNG's vast 400,000 square kilometers of forest are beginning to feel the effects of large-scale logging and mining by large multi-national corporations.

Papua New Guinea is a cornucopia of ecology. It ranks within the top five most diverse countries in the world with an estimated 21,000 types of higher plants, 242 species of mammals, and 762 species of birds. It also has one of the highest endemic rates of wildlife anywhere in the world due to the isolation of the island from the rest of the Asian and Australian continents. Along with its rugged terrain, which makes transport difficult, PNG's forests have been undesirable until recently because of the traditional land tenure by-which 90% of the land is accounted for. Under the Organic Law of PNG people do not own land, but only lease it from the traditional landowners, who are usually part of a clan or tribe. Therefore, the government must first consult with the local people before entering into a contract on matters concerning the use of traditional land. Laws are in place to stringently regulate the use of traditional land by foreigners and nationals, and to police the various investment practices that directly impinge on PNG's fragile but rich natural environment.

In response to international and local outcry many conservation groups and non- governmental organizations have begun to move into PNG to help with a multitude of issues. It is very hard to fully understand or appreciate the impact these organizations are having on PNG, but one thing is certain, it would be difficult in this day and age for countries in similar standing with PNG to do without them. The Embassy seeks to foster good relations with all these international conservation groups because it sees them as an integral part to ensuring that the future of the country is preserved for future generation. It is hoped the following information will be helpful for the reader to understanding both the activities of these organizations, and the unique opportunity the world has for preserving such a rich and increasingly rare treasures.

Conservation International is a NGO based in Washington DC. Its primary mission in Papua New Guinea is to help communities understand and cope with the dangers of unmanaged development, logging, and mining. CI currently operates 3 sites in PNG and a fourth which is currently in the planning stages.

Lakekamu Basin is located about 100 miles west of Port Moresby, and is situated along the Lakekamu River. The project began in 1992 when along with 17 students from the University of Papua New Guinea and the Foundation of the Peoples of the South Pacific; CI scientists carried out a Rapid Assessment expedition. This RAP helped to document much of the area, which today is the most documented site in PNG. Recently an entomologist there documented over 250 different types of ants (second most in the world after Peru)!

In this region CI also takes an active role in providing basic healthcare and services for the local people who have very little contact with any other organizations. CI is also working with the Conservation Policy, and Conservation Enterprise Departments to design and implement field research on sustainable development schemes. Some of these include small scale logging, galip nut harvesting, and bio-prospecting businesses. A small research station has been established in Moril Bay, which CI hopes will increasingly be used by visiting anthropologists and scientists alike.

The Aroma Coastal Marine Management Area is located approximately 75 miles east of Port Moresby and is home to the CI's current country director. It is currently the only site where CI is working to restore the environment along with preserving it. This project area, which is about 3 years old, is home to some of the thickest mangrove forests in the world. These forests are home to many types of tropical birds and fish. Here CI is working with the community to educate people about sustainable fishing practices, and the need to preserve the fragile coastal environment. They are also working with the community to create laws pertaining to these issues. Plans are already underway for a Marine Watch Rangers program consisting of trained community volunteers to monitor this area.

Upon seeing the devastating effects of logging to the west, the people of East Pomio, on the island of New Britain asked for CI's assistance. They formed the East New Britain Social Action Committee, and together with CI are working to create alternative means of development for the area. CI points out that this is a good example of how individual communities in PNG can be very proactive when it comes to conservation of their precious land. An enterprise specialist from CI should be dispatched to the area by the end of 1999 to help the community directly.

 Milne Bay is the most recent project site to be selected by CI as a priority area. During the summer of '99 a delegation from the province came to New York to meet with members of the board of CI and raise funding for their project. Current projections look good and CI is hoping to have three sites in Milne Bay up and running within a year. Preliminary work includes developing a plan for this area, which is blessed with some of the most beautiful marine wildlife and beaches in the world, and creating local NGO's to work with. Soon CI and the government of Milne Bay hope to be drawing eco-tourists from all over the world to this virgin and wild paradise. For more information on any of these projects please contact the CI website at www.conservation.org.

Although it is concerned primarily with conservation in the United States The Nature Conservancy has a few international programs as well. It is, therefore very significant that TNC chose to work extensively in PNG. The Nature Conservancy over the years has developed a large reservoir of knowledge based on years of work and research in the Solomon Islands. The very successful sustainable fishing programs developed there are now being duplicated at Kimbe Bay in West New Britain. Here TNC is working with Mahoni na Dari ("Guardians of the Sea") and the European Union to implement a conservation program aimed at protecting the unique reef systems found there. The project focuses on deep water fishing practices, which relieves pressure from the over-harvested reef fish, and educating the people on sustainable fishing practices. Local support has come from resorts and dive companies, which also depend on the reefs for tourism.

In Madang TNC and Sustainable Forest Systems (a Nevada based logging company) have jointly acquired a permit to operate in the forests of the Josephstaal region. Together with the local people they will work to provide a sustainable logging program which will provide the people with money to build schools and services. Maya Gorrez, is heading up this program and says that "the very unique bio-diversity of the area, as well as SFR's reputation for good conservation, have allowed us to pursue this project, and hopefully it will convince the landowners of the benefits of sustainable forestry."

 TNC is also currently working to create a Conservation Trust Fund for Papua New Guinea which would not only help fund existing programs, but new high priority projects. Together with the United Nations and USAID, TNC continually consults with local resource owners, NGO's, women's groups, government agencies, and the private sector to create just such a fund. on any of these projects please contact TNC website at www.tnc.org.

TNC also provides workshops to local NGO's and groups to teach them how to do such things as planning, fundraising, proposal writing, governance, and financial planning. One group TNC works especially close with is The Research and Conservation Foundation of PNG, a local NGO. RCF in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Society runs the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area, located in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Crater Mountain is home to more than one million acres of tropical rain forest and many different native peoples. Located about 75 km southwest of Goroka it was started around 1995 by a group of local landowners who were interested in developing enterprises based on conservation. Today you can hire a guide, hike into the virgin forest, and stay at one of three eco-tourism huts for around two dollars a night. Other projects here include a group of Integrated Conservation and Development (ICAD) initiatives such as butterfly farming, small scale coffee planting, and artifact production. Villagers also are conducting surveys along with scientists from CI, WCS, WWF, and the University of Papua New Guinea. For more information please contact the RCF website at www.sprep.org.ws.

Along with the Crater Mountain site the World Conservation Society publishes the New Guinea Tropical Ecology and Biodiversity Digest, which is also available on the world wide web at www.wcs.org/png/. It contains a bounty of information with the purpose to inform and keep people up to date with research and conservation activities inside PNG.

As the worlds largest independent conservation organization the World Wildlife Fund has the resources and experience to engage and combat pollution all over the world. In PNG they have embarked on several projects ranging from the huge Kikori basin Integrated Conservation and Development Project to small micro programs in communities across the country. For two decades the WWF has been working with, among others the United Nations, World Bank, International Finance Corporation, and the US State Department to further local conservation initiatives in Papua New Guinea and throughout Melanesia.

Kikori Integrated Conservation and Development Project is the largest conservation area in Papua New Guinea. Representing about 6% of PNG's total land area this region is home to lakes, river systems, mountain ranges, marshes, and mangroves, not to mention the 16 different ethnic peoples who live here. Kikori was created three years ago as a 12 year long project to help local communities pursue, both their conservation and sustainable development needs.

They have done this by working directly with local communities, and through liaisons with the government and international donor agencies. They have then been able to bring in companies like Chevron, Kikori Pacific (a local processor and marketer of sustainable forestry products), and Collins Pine Co. (the largest certified timber company in the US). These companies have found that not only is conservation good for the earth, but also for the bottom line. This is because many New Guineans, upon having their land damaged by large companies, demand and often receive large financial compensation. This has forced many multi-national companies to think twice before polluting the local people's land¹. Currently, the WWF and its partners are pursuing the protection of more land, continuing the development of successful programs, training local people about environmental awareness, and attaining legal status for Integrated Conservation and Development Projects in the area.

Concurrently, the WWF is pursuing Community Land Care Projects in the Sepik Hills, Trans Fly, and Collingwood Bay areas. The purpose of this initiative is to preserve the natural environment, biological diversity, and cultural heritage in distinct areas of the country. The project includes the creation of local and national agencies to support rural development and conservation. First, however, models need to be made and local communities have to be educated and taught how to protect the land.

WWF also has a program in the Hunstien Range where they work with the East Sepik Council of Women, and the Individual Community Rights Advocacy Forum ICRAF. Since 1992 this project has assisted in legal representation, community institution building, providing social services, eco-tourism, artifact making, and much more. For more information please contact the WWF website at www.panda.org.

 Along with the WWF Greenpeace is very active in the Collingwood Bay area. Greenpeace has been working with the Maisin people to create the Painting a Sustainable Future Initiative. Through community based enterprise, the Maisin have been able to resist the lure of large scale deforestation and have created the Maisin Integrated Conservation and Development organization (MICAD). MICAD has tapped into the heritage of the local people, and forged long term partnerships with museums, universities, government, companies, and non-governmental organizations, to promote, market and sell local handicraft, especially tapa cloth. Tapa is a form of art that dates back hundreds of years. It is made from pounded bark and painted with organic dyes; no two tapa cloths are alike. Over the years the production and sale of this cloth has brought in close to $30,000 for the local tribes.

Another one of Greenpeace's major contributions in PNG includes the enforcing and implementing of existing laws and legal practices. The national government all too often is not able to enforce or monitor industrial activities in the country. It mostly leaves this up to the provincial governments, which do not possess the knowledge or capability to handle this. Greenpeace is also very useful in engaging the provincial governments, and providing data to the national government. For much information on a variety of conservation initiatives please go to the Greenpeace website at www.greenpeace.org.

The Pacific Heritage Foundation in partnership with the East New Britain Sosel Eksen Committee, ICRAF, and the Forest Research Institute, is very active in the islands of New Britain and New Ireland.

Here many endemic plants and animals are under threat of being destroyed by large multi-national logging companies. Even though the people control the land, they are under extreme pressure to sell the rights for a fraction of their true market value. Here the PHF is pursuing community based monitoring activities and Integrated Conservation and Development programs. The challenges are enormous. With the costs of running for elections many leaders resort to selling off their land rights to logging companies. The PHF hopes to provide a model of how communities can derive profit without signing over their forests. Recently they fought to overturn a law regulating small timber initiatives, which restricts even the low impact logging initiatives undertaken locally. PHF also provides assistance with legal and biological information. For more information please go to the PHF website at www.bcnet.org.

Clearly the world is a changing place. With the pressures to industrialize and modernize many developing nations like Papua New Guinea are faced with an identity crisis. It is true, however, that organizations like the ones here can help to relieve this pressure, and allow countries to succeed without selling off their culture and environment for the sake of making fast money.

¹Information provided by Jared Diamond, "Paradise and Oil." Discover, March 1999

Copyright © 2004 Embassy of Papua New Guinea to the Americas and Globescope, Inc.
Having problems viewing this site? Click here to update your Flash player.