PAPUA NEW GUINEA
The island of New Guinea, the second largest in the world, has one of the last great expanses of tropical rainforest. Although much of this area is still untouched and in some remote regions natives may have never seen a white-skinned person, the rainforest is rapidly being developed in more accessible regions. Today the island is divided into two parts: the independent country of Papua New Guinea (eastern half), and the Indonesian province of Papua and West Papua [formerly Irian Jaya] (western half). This summary regards the eastern half, Papua New Guinea (PNG).
||Papua New Guinea Forest Figures
Total forest area: 29,437,000 ha
% of land area: 65%
Primary forest cover: 25,211,000 ha
% of land area: 55.7%
% total forest area: 85.6%
Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -139,000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.5%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 4.5%
Total forest loss since 1990: -2,086,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-6.6%
Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: -250200 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.9%
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 0.5%
Primary forest loss since 1990: -1,251,000 ha
Primary forest loss since 1990:-13.7%
Social services: n/a
Multiple purpose: 4.9%
None or unknown: 65.7
Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 29,437,000 ha
Primary: 25,211,000 ha
Modified natural: 4,134,000 ha
Production plantation: 92,000 ha
Production plantation: n/a
Plantations, 2005: 92,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 0.3%
Annual change rate (00-05): 1,980,000 ha
Above-ground biomass: n/a M t
Below-ground biomass: n/a M t
Area annually affected by
Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: n/a
Critically endangered: n/a
Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 2,001,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 6,363,000 m3 o.b.
Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $6,330,000
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $6,330,000
More forest statistics for Papua New Guinea
Each year 50,000-60,000 ha are cleared totally and permanently: 50% for agriculture, 25-30% for industrial logging, and the rest for infrastructure. However, up to 100,000 additional ha are affected by selective logging. Almost all logging in New Guinea is conducted by Malaysian logging firms. Typically these timber companies pay landowners very little—about $4-12 per cubic meter—for logs, but charge up to $160 per cubic meter.
Since the late 1990s when the government tried to place restrictions on logging operations and faced an ugly rebuke from logging companies, there have been large grants of lowland rainforest for industrial logging under suspicious circumstances. Timber operators, knowing Papua New Guinea is rife with corruption, have generously bribed politicians and forestry officials to illegally acquire logging rights to land. In the most notorious incident, Malaysia-based Rimbunan Hijau was caught by the country's intelligence agency using bribes to secure leases and employing a terror campaign against local people. Rimbunan Hijau now has control of about 1.6 million hectares between the Western Province Border and Central Province according to an October 2005 article in Scoop.
While the government has faced widespread criticism of its handling of foreign loggers, in the summer of 2005 parliament passed controversial amendments to the country's forestry act that would enable loggers and the forest minister to be directly involved in the allocation of timber permits thereby worsening the forest management situation.
Despite the increase in logging concessions, deforestation has not increased significantly in Papua New Guinea since the end of the 1990s. While some 4 million hectares of primary forest was razed between 1990 and 2005, the annual average deforestation rate has held at about 1 percent per year.
A second major cause behind environmental degradation in Papua New Guinea is the mining industry. Some of these mining related issues were brought to light during the 1997 debacle caused when the government called in foreign mercenaries to end the decade-long uprising on Bouganville Island, a key copper producing site. The island, which is ecologically and geographically part of the Solomon Islands, bore environmental scars from ongoing mining operations which brought few benefits to the average local but polluted rivers and damaged adjacent agricultural lands. Mining had similar impacts on the main island of New Guinea. In the best known case, Australia/UK-based BHP Billiton paid indigenous peoples living along the Ok Tedi and Fly rivers $28.6m in an out-of-court compensation settlement for damages caused by mining operations. Reports from the field suggest that despite the payment, the mine is carrying on business-as-usual, dumping mine wastes into local rivers. Ok Tedi Mining Ltd., the company that operates the mine, has itself acknowledged that more than 200,000 hectares of rainforest could be affected by operations according to a report by the World Resources Institute.
The Papuan government has been slow to address mining pollution and associated deforestation due to the importance of mining for the national economy. PNG's rich mineral endowment, coupled with petroleum, accounts for 25% of GDP and 72% of export revenue.
The third, and most significant, threat to Papua New Guinea's forests is agricultural expansion. The country's high population growth rate means increasing amounts of land are converted for subsistence agriculture. Typically fire is used for land-clearing and at times—especially during dry el Niño years—agricultural fires can burn out of control. During the 1997-1998 el Niño event, fires burned thousands of hectares of dried-out forest while thousands of people died from food shortages and famine in the central highlands.
As Papua New Guinea's forests are lost and degraded, it also loses its diversity of plants, animals and indigenous people. Some 700 languages—more than 10 percent of Earth's tounges—are spoken in New Guinea, and there are at least as many indigenous societies. When developers enter a community, tribesmen are often forced to choose between their native way of life or selling their lands. At times tribal elders do not understand that the agreement they sign will take away their livelihood and may spell an end for their culture. They often believe that loggers merely wish to "use" their lands, not convert the forest into scrub or savanna.
Biodiversity-wise, Papua New Guinea has some 1571 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles, of which, 25.6% are endemic and and 7.0% are threatened. Papua New Guinea is home to at least 11544 species of vascular plants. In November 2005, the Papuan government announced plans to create 12 new protected areas that would add 771,451 hectares to the country's park system—an increase of almost 50 per cent.
At the 2005 United Nations summit on climate change in Montreal, Papua New Guinea led a coalition of tropical developing countries in proposing a plan whereby wealthy countries would pay poor countries to preserve their rainforests. A modified version of the proposal was accepted by the UN.
Recent articles | Papua New Guinea news updates | XML
Could the Tasmanian tiger be hiding out in New Guinea?
(05/20/2013) Many people still believe the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) survives in the wilds of Tasmania, even though the species was declared extinct over eighty years ago. Sightings and reports of the elusive carnivorous marsupial, which was the top predator on the island, pop-up almost as frequently as those of Bigfoot in North America, but to date no definitive evidence has emerged of its survival. Yet, a noted cryptozoologist (one who searches for hidden animals), Dr. Karl Shuker, wrote recently that tiger hunters should perhaps turn their attention to a different island: New Guinea.
Scientists: bizarre mammal could still roam Australia
(01/03/2013) The continent of Australia is home to a wide variety of wonderfully weird mammals—kangaroos, wombats, and koalas among many others. But the re-discovery of a specimen over a hundred years old raises new hopes that Australia could harbor another wonderful mammal. Examining museum specimens collected in western Australia in 1901, contemporary mammalogist Kristofer Helgen discovered a western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijnii). The surprise: long-beaked echidnas were supposed to have gone extinct in Australia thousands of years ago.
The year in rainforests
(12/31/2012) 2012 was another year of mixed news for the world's tropical forests. This is a look at some of the most significant tropical rainforest-related news stories for 2012. There were many other important stories in 2012 and some were undoubtedly overlooked in this review. If you feel there's something we missed, please feel free to highlight it in the comments section. Also please note that this post focuses only on tropical forests.
New Guinea singing dog photographed in the wild for the first time
(12/03/2012) A rarely seen canine has been photographed in the wild, likely for the first time. Tom Hewitt, director of Adventure Alternative Borneo, photographed the New Guinea singing dog during a 12-day expedition up a remote mountain in Indonesian Papua. Very closely related to the Australian dingo, the New Guinea singing dog, so named for its unique vocalizations, has become hugely threatened by hybridization with domesticated dogs.
'Exporting deforestation': China is the kingpin of illegal logging
(11/29/2012) Runaway economic growth comes with costs: in the case of China's economic engine, one of them has been the world's forests. According to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), China has become the number one importer of illegal wood products from around the world. Illegal logging—which threatens biodiversity, emits carbon, impoverishes local communities, and is often coupled with other crimes—has come under heavy pressure in recent years from the U.S., the EU, and Australia. Each of these has implemented, or will soon implement, new laws that make importing and selling illegal wood products domestic crimes. However, China's unwillingness to tackle its vast appetite for illegal timber means the trade continues to decimate forests worldwide.
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil hits 10 year mark
(10/04/2012) The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is holding its tenth annual meeting later this month. The initiative, which aims to improve the social and environmental performance of palm oil production through a certification standard, has advanced considerably during that time, moving from an idea to a reality: RSPO-certified palm oil now accounts for 12 percent of global palm oil production. Yet the RSPO is not without controversy. Some palm oil companies say its criteria are too costly to adopt and are therefore discriminatory, while environmental critics argue its bar for "sustainable" palm oil is too low and the loopholes allow producers to claim membership even if they aren't actually producing certified palm oil across all their holdings. Nonetheless the RSPO has support from many of the world's largest palm oil producers, traders, and consumers as well as the biggest NGOs.
Controversial deep sea mining project approved in Papua New Guinea, first of its kind
(08/09/2012) The Papua New Guinea government has granted a 20-year license for copper and gold mining around a mile (1.6 kilometers) below the ocean's surface, jump-starting the world's first commercial deep sea mining venture. Undertaken by Canadian company, Nautilus Minerals, the venture will mine deep sea hydrothermal vents off the coast of New Britain. However, the project faces stiff concern from local activists, fishermen, and environmentalists.
'National scandal:' foreign companies stripped Papua New Guinea of community-owned forests
(07/30/2012) Eleven percent of Papua New Guinea's land area has been handed over to foreign corporations and companies lacking community representation, according to a new report by Greenpeace. The land has been granted under controversial government agreements known as Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs), which scientists have long warned has undercut traditional landholding rights in the country and decimated many of Papua New Guinea's biodiverse rainforests. To date, 72 SABLs have been granted—mostly to logging companies—covering an area totaling 5.1 million hectares or the size of Costa Rica.
Palm oil giant to produce 100% segregated, RSPO-certified palm oil
(05/23/2012) 100 percent of New Britain Palm Oil Limited's palm oil will be eco-certified, segregated, and fully traceable by the end of the year, reports the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
Photo: New 'bumblebee' gecko discovered in New Guinea
(04/18/2012) Researchers from the Papua New Guinea National Museum and the U.S. Geological Survey have discovered a new species of gecko on an island off the coast of New Guinea.
Police hired by loggers in Papua New Guinea lock locals in shipping containers
(04/16/2012) Locals protesting the destruction of their forest in Papua New Guinea for two palm oil plantations say police have been sent in for a second time to crack-down on their activities, even as a Commission of Inquiry (COI) investigates the legality of the concession. Traditional landowners in Pomio District on the island East New Britain say police bankrolled by Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau (RH) have terrorized the population, including locking people in shipping containers for three consecutive nights. The palm oil concessions belongs to a company known as Gilford Limited, which locals say is a front group for RH.
Papua New Guinea halts controversial nickel mine - for now
(04/16/2012) A massive, controversial nickel mine has been shut down in Papua New Guinea due to the environmental concerns of its slurry pipeline, reports Cultural Survival. Inspections of the 83 mile (134 kilometer) slurry pipeline found that it had been built too close to a major highway with spills already impacting traffic. Built by the Chinese state company Metallurgical Construction Corporation (MCC), the Ramu Nickel Mine has been plagued by land issues, labor disputes, and environmental concerns.
Margaret Southern: small efforts can add up to big impact
(02/13/2012) Margaret Southern writes about international conservation strategies and projects for The Nature Conservancy's editorial strategy team. She also writes about green living for TNC's Cool Green Science blog. She recently started All Hands On Earth, an organization which informs the public about the little things anyone can do to make a positive impact on the planet. Southern's newest project is Picnic for the Planet, an Earth Day celebration, which begins next month.
New book series hopes to inspire research in world's 'hottest biodiversity hotspot'
(01/17/2012) Entomologist Dmitry Telnov hopes his new pet project will inspire and disseminate research about one of the world's last unexplored biogeographical regions: Wallacea and New Guinea. Incredibly rich in biodiversity and still full of unknown species, the region, also known as the Indo-Australian transition, spans many of the tropical islands of the Pacific, including Indonesia's Sulawesi, Komodo and Flores, as well as East Timor—the historically famous "spice islands" of the Moluccan Archipelago—the Solomon Islands, and, of course, New Guinea. Telnov has begun a new book series, entitled Biodiversity, Biogeography and Nature Conservation in Wallacea and New Guinea, that aims to compile and highlight new research in the region, focusing both on biology and conservation. The first volume, currently available, also includes the description of 150 new species.
New frog trumps miniscule fish for title of 'world's smallest vertebrate'
(01/12/2012) How small can you be and still have a spine? Scientists are continually surprised by the answer. Researchers have discovered a new species of frog in Papua New Guinea that is smaller than many insects and dwarfed by a dime. The frog trumps the previously known smallest vertebrate—a tiny fish—by nearly 1 millimeter.
The year in review for rainforests
(12/28/2011) 2011 was designated as "Year of the Forests" by the United Nations. While there was relatively little progress on intergovernmental forest protection programs during the year, a lot happened elsewhere. Below is a look at some of the biggest tropical forest-related news stories for 2011. We at mongabay readily acknowledge there were a number of important temperate and boreal forest developments, including Britain's decision not to privatize its forests and the severe drought in Texas, but this article will cover only tropical forest news.
The world's tiniest frogs, the size of a Tic Tac, discovered in New Guinea
(12/16/2011) Scientists have discovered the world's tiniest frogs in Papua New Guinea.
Photos: two dozen new beetles discovered in Papua New Guinea hotspot
(11/23/2011) Over the past two decades, at least 24 new beetles species have been discovered in a remote mountainous rainforest region of Papua New Guinea by Swedish entomologists Ulf Nylander. Described in the new book Biodiversity, Biogeography and Nature Conservation in Wallacea and New Guinea, the new beetles found in the Aseki Province are all ecologically linked to rotting wood.
One night only: new orchid species surprises scientists
(11/22/2011) A mysterious new orchid blooms for one night only, opening around 10 PM and closing at 10 AM. Discovered on the island of New Britain near Papua New Guinea, the new species is the world's first orchid that flowers only at night. Scientists found the new flower, named Bulbophyllum nocturnum, in a logging concession on the tropical island.
Beetle bonanza: 84 new species prove richness of Indo-Australian islands
(11/08/2011) Re-examining beetle specimens from 19 museums has led to the discovery of 84 new beetle species in the Macratria genus. The new species span the islands of Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, tripling the number of known Macratria beetles in the region. "Species of the genus Macratria are cosmopolitan, with the highest species diversity in the tropical rainforests. Only 28 species of this genus were previously known from the territory of the Indo-Australian transition," Dr. Dmitry Telnov with the Entomological Society of Latvia, who discovered the new species, told mongabay.com.
Losing our pigs and our ancestors: threats to the livelihoods and environment of Papua New Guinea
(10/27/2011) In 1968, distinguished anthropologist Roy Rappaport wrote a seminal publication of human ecology: 'Pigs for the Ancestors: Rituals in the Ecology of a New Guinea People' which integrated cultural ritual with the necessity of maintaining pre-existing relationships with the environment. Documenting the behavior activities of the Tsembaga Maring tribe in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Rappaport recognized how various activities of the tribe’s intrinsic culture was a direct product of that peoples’ relation with their natural environment.
Featured video: new documentary puts human face on logging in Papua New Guinea
(09/27/2011) A new documentary, filmed single-handily by filmmaker David Fedele, covers the impact of industrial logging on a community in Papua New Guinea. Entitled Bikpela Bagarap(or 'Big Damage' in English), the film shows with startling intimacy how massive corporations, greedy government, and consumption abroad have conspired to ruin lives in places like Vanimo, Papua New Guinea.
Primary forest best for birds in Papua New Guinea
(09/26/2011) A new survey recorded 125 birds in Papua New Guinea's Waria Valley, of which an astounding 43 percent were endemic to the island. The survey, published in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science, was the first of its kind for the rainforest-studded valley and found that bird populations were most diverse and abundant in primary forests. The bird surveys were carried out in four different habitats including primary forest, primary forest edges, secondary forest edges, and agricultural landscape.
Big damage in Papua New Guinea: new film documents how industrial logging destroys lives
(08/29/2011) In one scene a young man, perhaps not long ago a boy, named Douglas stands shirtless and in shorts as he runs a chainsaw into a massive tropical tree. Prior to this we have already heard from an official how employees operating chainsaws must have a bevy of protective equipment as well as training, but in Papua New Guinea these are just words. The reality is this: Douglas straining to pull the chainsaw out of the tree as it begins to fall while his fellow employees flee the tumbling giant. The new film Bikpela Bagarap('Big Damage') documents the impact of industrial logging on the lives of local people in Papua New Guinea.
Logging company fined $100 million for illegal logging in Papua New Guinea
(06/28/2011) In a landmark court decision a judge has slapped a logging company with a nearly $100 million (K225.5 million) fine for large-scale illegal logging. Last week, Malaysian timber company, Concord Pacific, was sentenced to pay four forest tribes for environmental destruction in the first ruling of its kind for Papua New Guinea.
more New Guinea news articles
Suggested reading - Books
Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [Bibliographic citation for this page]
Contact me if you have suggestions on other rainforest-related environmental sites and resources for this country.
CIA World Factbook
CIA-World Factbook Profile
World Resources Institute
Last updated: 4 Feb 2006