By Rhett Butler
New Guinea, the second largest island in the world, is home to one of the last great expanses of tropical rainforest as well as some of the world's most traditional forest dwellers, some of whom have had little or no contact with the outside world (44 groups in Indonesian Papua are estimated remain uncontacted). The island is also rich with natural resources including timber, minerals, and offshore fisheries and energy deposits.
Today New Guinea is divided into two parts: the independent country of Papua New Guinea (eastern half), and the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua (the western half formerly known as Irian Jaya).
Papua New Guinea has seen more widespread development than the Indonesian part of the island, although the average citizen remains poor. Most Papuans are part of the informal economy, living off subsistent activities. The dominant industries are extraction-based (logging, mining, and increasingly, industrial agriculture).
Quick Facts on New Guinea
- Population: 7.1 million
- First human habitation: 40,000-60,000 years before present
- Languages: 1073 (826 PNG, 257 Indonesian Papua, 12 overlapping)
- European colonization: First contact came in the 16th century; first European claim was in 1828 when the Netherlands claimed the western half of the island as Netherlands New Guinea; Germany and Britain established claims shortly thereafter. For the first half of the 20th century Australia and the Dutch ruled the two halves of New Guinea.
- Indonesian Colonization/Independence: The Dutch handed Papua over to the U.N. in 1962, Indonesia grabbed the territory in 1963. Australia granted independence to the half it controlled in 1975.
- Land area: 786,000 sq km (303,500 sq mi)
- Length: more than 1600 km
- Highest point: Puncak Jaya (4,884 meters - 16,023 feet) in Papua
- Biomes/ecosystems: glacial (permanent equatorial glaciers), alpine tundra, savanna, montane and lowland rainforest, mangroves, wetlands, lake and river ecosystems, seagrasses, and coral reefs
- Biodiversity: Despite covering less than 0.5 percent of Earth's surface, New Guinea is estimated to contain 5-10 percent of global biodiversity. New Guinea's species are characteristic of Australia rather than Asia due to its historical links to the Australian land mass (when sea levels fall, New Guinea is connected to Australia).
Environmental issues in New Guinea
New Guinea's rainforests are being logged, cleared, and converted at a rapid rate due to timber extraction, subsistence agriculture, and expansion of industrial agriculture. Between 1972 and 2002 PNG lost more than 5 million hectares of forest, trailing only Brazil and Indonesia among tropical countries. Papua also lost an extensive area.
Water pollution from mining is also a concern in New Guinea.
New Guinea environmental news
Rogue cop missing from jail|
(01/27/2015) An Indonesian police official busted for illegal logging in West Papua has been missing from jail for nearly a year after being granted permission to seek medication treatment, reports the The Jakarta Post.
Indonesia to hear indigenous peoples' grievances on land disputes
(08/22/2014) Public hearings into alleged violations of indigenous peoples' land rights will open next week in Palu on the island of Sulawesi. This is the beginning of a series of hearings by the Commission on Human Rights to explore conflicts affecting indigenous people in forest areas. The Commission will travel throughout Indonesia, providing concerned parties an opportunity to meet and discuss land disputes, before submitting the results of their findings to the next president.
Palm oil company clears rainforest in New Guinea
(07/29/2014) An Indonesian Stock Exchange-listed company whose commissioner is a member of The Nature Conservancy-Indonesia's board has been clearing dense rainforest in New Guinea, finds a new report from Greenomics-Indonesia. The report is based on analysis of data from Global Forest Watch, NASA satellites, Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry, and company documents.
Scientists ask PNG to support conservation research
(07/24/2014) The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the world's largest group of tropical researchers, is calling on the government of Papua New Guinea to increase support for biology training programs in the densely-forested and wildlife-rich country.
What is peat swamp, and why should I care?
(07/20/2014) Long considered an unproductive hindrance to growth and development, peat swamp forests in Southeast Asia have been systematically cleared, drained and burned away to make room plantations and construction. Now, as alternating cycles of fires and flood create larger development problems, while greenhouse gas emissions skyrocket, it is time to take a closer look at peat, and understand why clearing it is a very bad idea.
Malaysian palm oil giant loses PNG case, plantations declared illegal
(05/24/2014) Papua New Guinea's National Court has declared two leases held by Malaysia-based Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK) null and void, and ordered the government to cancel the licenses to convert nearly 40,000 hectares of rainforest and community forest for oil palm plantations, reports the Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
Palm oil plan unlikely to help communities in Indonesian New Guinea
(05/05/2014) Plans to rapidly expand palm oil production in Indonesian New Guinea are unlikely to boost livelihoods for local communities since most investors are outsiders and the bulk of workers will be migrants, argues a paper published in Environment, Development and Sustainability.
Illegal logging makes up 70 percent of Papua New Guinea's timber industry
(04/22/2014) Corruption, weak governance, and powerful timber barons are illegally stripping the forests of Papua New Guinea, according to a new report from the Chatham House. The policy institute finds that 70 percent of logging in Papua New Guinea is currently illegal, despite the fact that 99 percent of land is owned by local indigenous communities.
Indonesian sugar company poised to destroy half of island paradise's forests
(03/14/2014) An Indonesian plantation company may be preparing to destroy up to half of the natural forests on Indonesia's remote Aru Islands, reports Forest Watch Indonesia. Analyzing land use plans for Aru, Forest Watch Indonesia found that local government officials have turned over 480,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) to 28 companies held by PT. Menara Group, a plantation conglomerate. 76 percent of the area is currently natural forest. Converting the area to sugar plantations would cut Aru's forest cover by half, from 730,000 ha to 365,000 ha.
Procter & Gamble's palm oil suppliers linked to deforestation (photos)
(02/26/2014) A year-long investigation by Greenpeace has found companies that supply Procter & Gamble (P&G) (NYSE:PG) with palm oil are engaged in clearing of rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia, suggesting that Head & Shoulders shampoo and other consumer products made by the company may be linked to forest destruction.
Indonesian cop caught smuggling rare timber worth millions escapes with 2-year sentence
(02/21/2014) Green activists are crying foul after an Indonesian police officer believed to have laundered nearly $128 million in proceeds from illegal fuel and timber smuggling was sentenced to just two years in prison for illegal logging – a verdict described as 'shockingly lenient' and 'unbelievable' given the extent of his alleged crimes
Indonesia rejects, delays 1.3m ha of concessions due to moratorium
(02/12/2014) The Indonesian government has rejected nearly 932,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) of oil palm, timber, and logging concessions due to its moratorium on new permits across millions of hectares of peatlands and rainforests, reports Mongabay-Indonesia.
New Guinea animals losing vital tree cavities to logging, hunting practices
(12/17/2013) Across New Guinea, deforestation is occurring at increasing levels. Whether it be industrial logging, monoculture plantations, hunters felling trees in pursuit of arboreal wildlife, or other forms of forest conversion, deforestation is depleting not only forest carbon stocks and understory environments, but habitats for species who call tree cavities "home." A new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal, Tropical Conservation Science, evaluated whether a variety of man-made nest boxes could function as suitable substitutes for tree cavities.
3.5 million ha of Indonesian and Malaysian forest converted for palm oil in 20 years
(11/12/2013) Some 3.5 million hectares (8.7 million acres) of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea was converted for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, finds a comprehensive set of assessments released by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The research, conducted by an international team of scientists from a range of institutions, is presented in a series of seven academic papers that estimate change in land use and greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm expansion in the three countries, review the social and environmental impacts of palm oil production, forecast potential growth in the sector across the region, and detail methods for measuring emissions and carbon stocks of plantations establishing on peatlands.
Palm oil giant to forgo development of New Guinea rainforest
(11/06/2013) Palm oil giant Golden-Agri Resources (GAR) will forgo development of an oil palm plantation in an area of rainforest in Indonesian New Guinea in order to comply with its forest conservation policy. The decision by GAR — which is the parent company for PT SMART, one of Indonesia's largest private palm oil companies — was disclosed in a report on its high carbon stock pilot project, which is a key component of the company's forest conservation policy (FCP).
Bolivia, Madagascar, China see jump in forest loss
(11/01/2013) Loss of forest cover increased sharply in Bolivia, Madagascar, and Ecuador during the third quarter of 2013, according to an update from NASA scientists.
Agribusiness project leaves indigenous communities in Indonesian New Guinea hungry and in poverty, report says
(09/03/2013) Land grabs and environmental destruction linked to an agricultural megaproject in Indonesia’s Papua province are devastating indigenous communities and causing severe food shortages in some areas, alleges a coalition of NGOs. Agro-industrial development in Papua has left indigenous communities cut off from their traditional livelihoods and living in abject poverty, the coalition said in a report released on Monday calling for the suspension of the project.
Palm oil licenses provide cover for logging in New Guinea
(08/14/2013) Developers are seeking palm oil concessions to as a means to circumvent restrictions on industrial logging in Papua New Guinea, finds a new study published in the journal Conservation Letters. The research, led by Paul Nelson and Jennifer Gabriel of James Cook University, is based on analysis of 36 proposed oil palm concessions covering nearly 950,000 hectares in PNG. The study assessed the likelihood of the concessions coming to fruition. It found that only five concessions, covering 181,700 ha, are likely to be developed.
Former cop to face charges in illegal logging scandal, Indonesian police say
(07/30/2013) Labora Sitorus, a former police officer accused of running a nearly $150 million illegal logging ring in Indonesian New Guinea, faces charges of money laundering, illegal logging and fuel smuggling, a police spokesman said in Jakarta on Friday.
Saving the Tenkile: an expedition to protect one of the most endangered animals you've never heard of
(06/05/2013) The tenkile, or the Scott’s tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus scottae) could be a cross between a koala bear and a puppy. With it’s fuzzy dark fur, long tail and snout, and tiny ears, it’s difficult to imagine a more adorable animal. It’s also difficult to imagine that the tenkile is one of the most endangered species on Earth: only an estimated 300 remain. According to the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA), the tenkile’s trouble stems from a sharp increase of human settlements in the Torricelli mountain range. Once relatively isolated, the tenkile now struggles to avoid hunters and towns while still having sufficient range to live in.
Scientists describe over 100 new beetles from New Guinea
(06/03/2013) In a single paper, a team of researchers have succinctly described 101 new species of weevils from New Guinea, more than doubling the known species in the beetle genus, Trigonopterus. Since describing new species is hugely laborious and time-intensive, the researchers turned to a new method of species description known as 'turbo-taxonomy,' which employs a mix of DNA-sequencing and taxonomic expertise to describe species more rapidly.
Indonesian official arrested for running $150m illegal logging ring
(05/30/2013) A former police officer has been arrested in Indonesia for orchestrating a $150 million illegal logging ring in Indonesian New Guinea.
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.
Four dead and dozens trapped after collapse at Freeport mine in Papua
(05/15/2013) Four workers were found dead and 10 rescued after the collapse of a tunnel at Freeport-McMoran’s Grasberg mine in the highlands of Indonesia’s Papua province on Tuesday.
Indonesia welcomes Greenpeace ship 3 years after eviction
(05/09/2013) Indonesia has welcomed Greenpeace's ship, the Rainbow Warrior, back into its waters for the first time since deporting the vessel in October 2010. The Rainbow Warrior arrived today in Jayapura, a major port in Indonesian New Guinea, as the first leg of a tour to raise environmental awareness across the archipelago, according to the activist group.
UN report gives Indonesia low marks in forest governance
(05/09/2013) A new UN report exposes serious flaws in Indonesia’s forest governance, serving as a wake up call to policy makers aiming to conserve forests in the country, which boasts the third largest area of tropical forest coverage in the world. On Monday, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) together with the Government of Indonesia launched a comprehensive forest governance index, which evaluates forest governance at the central, provincial and district levels and offers policy recommendations designed to better equip the country to conserve forests and peatlands.
Leatherback sea turtles suffer 78 percent decline at critical nesting sites in Pacific
(02/27/2013) The world's largest sea turtle, the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), is vanishing from its most important nesting sites in the western Pacific, according to a new study in Ecosphere. Scientists found that leatherback turtle nests have dropped by 78 percent in less than 30 years in the Bird's Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea. Worryingly, these beaches account for three-fourths of the western Pacific's distinct leatherback population; globally the leatherback is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the highest rating before extinction.
Getting intimate with a giant, yet poorly known flightless bird: the cassowary
(01/23/2013) For large, conspicuous, and somewhat notorious animals, relatively little is known about cassowaries, a group of flightless birds that roams the rainforests of Northern Australia and New Guinea. This fact is highlighted in Cassowaries, a recent documentary by Australian journalist and film producer Bianca Keeley. Cassowaries tells the story of cassowaries struggling to survive after a major cyclone destroyed their rainforest home.
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.
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.
Indonesia remains epicenter for illegal wildlife trade in reptiles and amphibians
(10/24/2012) Demand for exotic pets is driving the illegal harvest and trade of herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) in Indonesian New Guinea, according to a recent study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. Between September 2010 and April 2011, Daniel Natusch and Jessica Lyons of the University of New South Wales surveyed traders of amphibians and reptiles in the Indonesian provinces of Maluku, West Papua and Papua.
Will designation of new administrative districts lead to more deforestation in Indonesia?
(10/24/2012) On Monday Indonesia's House of Representatives moved to establish 'North Kalimantan', a new province in Indonesian Borneo. It also voted for four new districts: Pangandaran in West Java, South Coast in Lampung, and South Manokwari and Arfak Mountains in West Papua. While the moves aim to improve governance by boosting local autonomy, they could make it more difficult for Indonesia to meet its deforestation reduction goals if recent trends — detailed in a 2011 academic paper — hold true.
NASA images reveal rapid loss of Indonesia's glaciers
(09/05/2012) Satellite images highlighted last week by NASA reveal the rapid disappearance of Indonesia's only glaciers.
Charts: deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, 2000-2010
(07/15/2012) Indonesia and Malaysia lost more than 11 million hectares (42,470 square miles) of forest between 2000 and 2010, according to a study published last year in the journal Global Change Biology. The area is roughly the size of Denmark or the state of Virginia. The bulk of forest loss occurred in lowland forests, which declined by 7.8 million hectares or 11 percent on 2000 cover. Peat swamp forests lost the highest percentage of cover, declining 19.7 percent. Lowland forests have historically been first targeted by loggers before being converted for agriculture. Peatlands are increasingly converted for industrial oil palm estates and pulp and paper plantations.
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).
Indigenous group paid $0.65/ha for forest worth $5,000/ha in Indonesia
(05/23/2012) A palm oil company has paid indigenous Moi landowners in Indonesian Papua a paltry $0.65 per hectare for land that will be worth $5,000 a hectare once cultivated, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Indonesian NGO, Telepak. The report outlines similar disadvantageous deals in timber with the same companies breaking their promises of bringing education and infrastructure.
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.
More than 1 million acres of New Guinea forest cut from Indonesia's forest moratorium
(02/16/2012) More than 400,000 hectares of land — including 350,000 hectares of peatland — in Indonesian New Guinea lost their protected status during a November 2011 revision of Indonesia's moratorium on new forest concessions, reports a new analysis by Greenomics-Indonesia, a Jakarta-based NGO.
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 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.
Snake laundering rampant in the Indonesian reptile export market
(11/21/2011) Breeding farms in Indonesia are being used to launder illegally caught wildlife, finds a new study published in the journal Biological Conservation. The research is based on surveys of traders who supply the market for green pythons, a non-venomous snake popular in the pet trade for its many color forms. The authors tracked pythons from their point of capture in Indonesian New Guinea and Maluku to breeding farms in Jakarta where the snakes are exported for the pet trade as 'captive-bred'. They found that 80 percent of snakes exported annually from Indonesia are illegally wild-caught.
Photos: bizarre shell of new snail baffles researchers
(11/10/2011) A new species of snail with a bizarre shell has surprised scientists. Discovered near massive waterfalls in pristine lowland rainforest in New Guinea, the tiny new species' shell is shaped like a cornucopia, spirals flying freely instead of fused together like most shells. Latvian malacologist (one who study molluscs) Kristine Greke, who described the new species, named it Ditropopsis mirabilis, meaning miraculous or extraordinary. To date, scientists are uncertain why the super small snail—2 to 6 millimeters (0.07 to 0.23 inches)—would have evolved such a strange shell.
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.
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.
Animal picture of the day: spectacular blue and turquoise beetle in New Guinea
(07/15/2011) Eupholus schoenherri weevil near Manokwari in West Papua.
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.
Pictures: Turquoise 'dragon' among 1,000 new species discovered in New Guinea
(06/27/2011) Scientists discovered more than 1,000 previously unknown species during a decade of research in New Guinea, says a new report from WWF. While the majority of 1,060 species listed are plants and insects, the inventory includes 134 amphibians, 71 fish, 43 reptiles, 12 mammals, and 2 birds. Among the most notable finds: a woolly giant rat, an endemic subspecies of the silky cuscus, a snub-fin dolphin, a turquoise and black 'dragon' or monitor lizard, and an 8-foot (2.5-m) river shark.
Indonesian sugar producers seek 500,000 ha of land exempted from moratorium
(06/23/2011) Indonesia's sugar association is seeking 500,000 hectares of land for new sugar cane plantations in a bid to make the country self-sufficient in sugar production, reports Tempo Interactive.
Papua New Guinea suspends controversial grants of community forest lands to foreign corps
(05/06/2011) The government of Papua New Guinea yesterday suspended its controversial Special Agricultural and Business Leases program which has granted logging and plantation development concessions to mostly foreign corporations across 5.2 million hectares of community forest land, reports the Courier-Post
Forgotten species: the endearing Tenkile tree kangaroo
(05/03/2011) With their long snout, furry body, soft eyes, and, at times, upright stance, tree kangaroos often remind me of the muppets. Of course, if there were any fairness in the world, the muppets would remind me of tree kangaroos, since kangaroos, or macropods, have inhabited the Earth for at least 5 million years longer than Jim Henson’s muppets. But as a child of the 1980s, I knew about muppets well before tree kangaroos, which play second fiddle in the public imagination to their bigger, boxing cousins. This is perhaps surprising, as tree kangaroos possess three characteristics that should make them immensely popular: they are mammals, they are monkey-like (and who doesn't like monkeys?), and they are desperately 'cute'.
Scientists urge Papua New Guinea to declare moratorium on massive forest clearing
(04/19/2011) Forests spanning an area larger than Costa Rica—5.6 million hectares (13.8 million acres)—have been handed out by the Papua New Guinea government to foreign corporations, largely for logging. Granted under government agreements known as Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs), the land leases circumvent the nation's strong laws pertaining to communal land ownership. Now, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the world's largest professional society devoted to studying and conserving tropical forests, is urging the Papua New Guinea government to declare a moratorium on SABLs.
5 million hectares of Papua New Guinea forests handed to foreign corporations
(03/23/2011) During a meeting in March 2011 twenty-six experts—from biologists to social scientists to NGO staff—crafted a statement calling on the Papua New Guinea government to stop granting Special Agricultural and Business Leases. According to the group, these leases, or SABLs as they are know, circumvent Papua New Guinea's strong community land rights laws and imperil some of the world's most intact rainforests. To date 5.6 million hectares (13.8 million acres) of forest have been leased under SABLs, an area larger than all of Costa Rica. "Papua New Guinea is among the most biologically and culturally diverse nations on Earth. [The country's] remarkable diversity of cultural groups rely intimately on their traditional lands and forests in order to meet their needs for farming plots, forest goods, wild game, traditional and religious sites, and many other goods and services," reads the statement, dubbed the Cairns Declaration. However, according to the declaration all of this is threatened by the Papua New Guinea government using SABLs to grant large sections of land without going through the proper channels.
Stopping export logging, oil palm expansion in PNG in 2012 would cost $1.8b, says economist
(03/07/2011) Stopping logging for timber export and conversion of forest for oil palm plantations would cost Papua New Guinea roughly $2.8 billion dollars from 2012 to 2025, but would significantly reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new analysis published by an economist from the University of Queensland.
Indonesia set to clear 3 million ha of rainforest in New Guinea
(02/01/2011) Indonesia's Ministry of Forestry has approved conversion of some 3 million hectares of natural forest in Papua province, on the island of New Guinea, according to new analysis by Greenomics Indonesia, an environmental group.
Greening the world with palm oil?
(01/26/2011) The commercial shows a typical office setting. A worker sits drearily at a desk, shredding papers and watching minutes tick by on the clock. When his break comes, he takes out a Nestle KitKat bar. As he tears into the package, the viewer, but not the office worker, notices something is amiss—what should be chocolate has been replaced by the dark hairy finger of an orangutan. With the jarring crunch of teeth breaking through bone, the worker bites into the 'bar'. Drops of blood fall on the keyboard and run down his face. His officemates stare, horrified. The advertisement cuts to a solitary tree standing amid a deforested landscape. A chainsaw whines. The message: Palm oil—an ingredient in many Nestle products—is killing orangutans by destroying their habitat, the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.
Indonesia grants slew of last-minute logging concessions on eve of moratorium
(01/25/2011) Indonesia's Minister of Forestry granted nearly 3 million hectares of plantation forestry concessions the day before the country's president was due to sign a decree establishing a two-year moratorium on new logging licenses, reports a new analysis by Greenomics, an Indonesian environmental group.
Will Indonesia's big REDD rainforest deal work?
(12/28/2010) Flying in a plane over the Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea, rainforest stretches like a sea of green, broken only by rugged mountain ranges and winding rivers. The broccoli-like canopy shows little sign of human influence. But as you near Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua, the tree cover becomes patchier—a sign of logging—and red scars from mining appear before giving way to the monotonous dark green of oil palm plantations and finally grasslands and urban areas. The scene is not unique to Indonesian New Guinea; it has been repeated across the world's largest archipelago for decades, partly a consequence of agricultural expansion by small farmers, but increasingly a product of extractive industries, especially the logging, plantation, and mining sectors. Papua, in fact, is Indonesia's last frontier and therefore represents two diverging options for the country's development path: continued deforestation and degradation of forests under a business-as-usual approach or a shift toward a fundamentally different and unproven model based on greater transparency and careful stewardship of its forest resources.
Biodiversity and slash-and-burn agriculture in Papua New Guinea
(12/20/2010) As pressures increase on the rich forests of Papua New Guinea, how will biodiversity fare? A new study in mongabay.com's Tropical Conservation Science attempts to answer this question by looking at how bird species are impacted by slash-and-burn agriculture. While locals have been practicing such agriculture for 5,000 years, rising populations and societal changes are expected to increase the pressure of slash-and-burn agriculture on forests and the species that live there.
Pictures: Indonesian New Guinea
(10/25/2010) Indonesian New Guinea is one of the planet's last frontiers: rugged mountains and rainforests conceal untold numbers of species and hundreds of cultures. But these forests—especially in the province of West Papua—are increasingly under threat from logging, mining, and conversion to plantations. The cultural heritage of the region is also at risk due to programs designed to encourage migration from other parts of the archipelago and placate restive native Papuan populations with special autonomy payments.
Foreign corporations devastating Papua New Guinea rainforests
(10/21/2010) A letter in Nature from seven top scientists warns that Papua New Guinea's accessible forest will be lost or heavily logged in just ten to twenty years if swift action isn't taken. A potent mix of poor governance, corruption, and corporate disregard is leading to the rapid loss of Papua New Guinea's much-heralded rainforests, home to a vast array of species found no-where else in the world. "Papua New Guinea has some of the world's most biologically and culturally rich forests, and they’re vanishing before our eyes," author William Laurance of James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, said in a statement.
Death toll rises in New Guinea flash floods linked to deforestation
(10/09/2010) The death toll from flash floods in Wasior, West Papua has now topped 100, reports the Jakarta Post.
Timber barons linked to illegal logging in Indonesian New Guinea
(08/05/2010) Timber barons are illegally exploiting Indonesia's increasingly threatened lowland rainforests on the island of New Guinea for merbau wood, found an undercover investigation conducted by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and its Indonesian partner Telapak.
Scientists sound warning on forest carbon payment scheme
(07/22/2010) Scientists convening in Bali expressed a range of concerns over a proposed mechanism for mitigating climate change through forest conservation, but some remained hopeful the idea could deliver long-term protection to forests, ease the transition to a low-carbon economy, and generate benefits to forest-dependent people.
Papua New Guinea strips communal land rights protections, opening door to big business
(06/30/2010) On May 28th the parliament in Papua New Guinea passed a sweeping amendment that protects resource corporations from any litigation related to environmental destruction, labor laws, and landowner abuse. All issues related to the environment would now be decided by the government with no possibility of later lawsuits. Uniquely in the world, over 90 percent of land in Papua New Guinea is owned by clan or communally, not be the government. However this new amendment drastically undercuts Papua New Guinea's landowners from taking legislative action before or after environmental damage is done. Essentially it places all environmental safeguards with the Environment and Conservation Minister.
Indonesia's plan to save its rainforests
(06/14/2010) Late last year Indonesia made global headlines with a bold pledge to reduce deforestation, which claimed nearly 28 million hectares (108,000 square miles) of forest between 1990 and 2005 and is the source of about 80 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia would voluntarily cut emissions 26 percent — and up to 41 percent with sufficient international support — from a projected baseline by 2020. Last month, Indonesia began to finally detail its plan, which includes a two-year moratorium on new forestry concession on rainforest lands and peat swamps and will be supported over the next five years by a one billion dollar contribution by Norway, under the Scandinavian nation's International Climate and Forests Initiative. In an interview with mongabay.com, Agus Purnomo and Yani Saloh of Indonesia's National Climate Change Council to the President discussed the new forest program and Norway's billion dollar commitment.
Photos: more new species found in Indonesia's 'lost world'
(05/17/2010) The Foja Mountains on the Indonesian side of New Guinea have proven a biological treasure trove that just keeps spilling riches. Two-and-a-half years ago the region—dubbed Indonesia's 'lost world'—made news globally when researchers announced the discovery of a giant rat: five times the size of the familiar brown rat. New amphibians, birds, and insects have also been found during past expeditions in 2005 and 2007. A collaborative team of Indonesia and international researchers have since returned to the Foja Mountains and found more spectacular species.
Cargill sells palm oil business in Papua New Guinea
(02/26/2010) Cargill will sell off its palm oil holdings in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to focus on operations in Indonesia, reports the Star Tribune. The $175 million sale involves 62,000 ha of oil palm across three plantations and several mills.
Indonesia to target New Guinea for agricultural expansion
(02/22/2010) Indonesia will target its last frontier — its territory on New Guinea — as it seeks to become a major agricultural exporter, reports the AFP.
Indonesian government report recommends moratorium on peatlands conversion
(01/19/2010) A study issued by Indonesian government recommends a moratorium on peatlands conversion in order to meet its greenhouse gas emissions target pledged for 2020, reports the Jakarta Post. The report, commissioned by the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), says that conversion of peatlands accounts for 50 percent of Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions but only one percent of GDP. A ban on conversion would therefore be a cost-effective way for the country to achieve its goal of reducing carbon emissions 26 percent from a projected baseline by 2020. But the recommendation is likely to face strong resistance from plantation developers eager to expand operations in peatland areas. Last year the Agricultural Ministry lifted a moratorium on the conversion of peatlands of less than 3 meters in depth for oil palm plantations. Environmentalists said the move would release billions of tons of carbon dioxide.
Palm oil developers push into Indonesia's last frontier: Papua
(11/10/2009) Oil palm developers in the Indonesian half of New Guinea are signing questionable deals that exploit local communities and put important forest ecosystems at risk, alleges a new report from Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Telapak.
World's rarest tree kangaroo gets help from those who once hunted it
(08/17/2009) The world's rarest tree kangaroo is in the midst of a comeback in a remote part of Papua New Guinea. On the brink of extinction in 2001 with a population estimated at fewer than 100 individuals, Scott's Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus scottae), or the tenkile, is recovering, thanks to the efforts of the Tenkile Conservation Alliance to motivate local communities to reduce hunting and respect critical forest habitat. The tenkile Conservation Alliance, led by Australians Jim and Jean Thomas, works to provide alternative sources of protein and raise environmental awareness among local communities.
Palm oil companies trade plantation concessions for carbon credits from forest conservation
(07/22/2009) Indonesian palm oil producers are eying forest conservation projects as a way to supplement earnings via the nascent carbon market, reports Reuters.
Credit Suisse, UBS, BNP Paribas to help finance cutting of rainforests for palm oil, say NGOs
(07/09/2009) Swiss banks, Credit Suisse and UBS, together with the French BNP Paribas, are helping Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources raise up to 280 million Swiss francs ($258 million) to finance conversion of large areas of rainforest in New Guinea and Borneo for oil palm plantations, reports the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), a group that campaigns on behalf of forest people in Southeast Asia.
Photos: Undocumented species discovered in Papua New Guinea
(03/25/2009) Colorful jumping spiders, a tiny frog with a "ringing song" and a striped gecko are among more than 50 previously unknown species discovered during a recent survey in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea. More than 600 species were documented during the 2008 expedition, which was led by Conservation International (CI) under its Rapid Assessment Program (RAP).
DR Congo, Indonesia, PNG, Tanzania, Vietnam win REDD funding for forest conservation
(03/20/2009) The United Nation's REDD Program has approved $18 million in support of forest conservation projects in five pilot countries: Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, and Viet Nam.
Papua New Guinea creates first nature reserve
(03/03/2009) Home to numerous endemic species and some of the Asia's last intact tropical forests, Papua New Guinea has created its first national conservation area. Unique in structure, the park is owned by 35 surrounding indigenous villages which have agreed unanimously to prohibit hunting, logging, mining, and other development within the park. The villages have also created a community organization that will oversee management of the park. The 10,000 villagers found partners in Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Conservation International, and National Geographic. The conservation organizations spent twelve years working with locals and the Papua New Guinea government to establish the YUS Conservation Area.
24% of Papua New Guinea's rainforest destroyed or degraded by logging in 30 years
(02/23/2009) Nearly one quarter of Papua New Guinea's rainforests were damaged or destroyed between 1972 and 2002, report researchers writing in the journal Biotopica. The results, which were published in a report last June, show that Papua New Guinea is losing forests at a much faster rate than previously believed. Over the 30-year study period 15 percent of Papua New Guinea's tropical forests were cleared and 8.8 percent were degraded through logging.
New fire record for Borneo, Sumatra shows dramatic increase in rainforest destruction
(02/22/2009) Destruction of rainforests and peatlands is making Indonesia more susceptible to devastating forest fires, especially in dry el Niño years, report researchers writing in the journal Nature Geoscience. Constructing a record of fires dating back to 1960 for Sumatra and Kalimantan (on the island of Borneo) using airport visibility records to measure aerosols or "haze" prior to the availability of satellite data, Robert Field of the University of Toronto and colleagues found that the intensity and scale of fires has increased substantially in Indonesia since the early 1990s, coinciding with rapid expansion of oil palm plantations and industrial logging.
Indonesian ecolabeling initiative providing cover for rainforest destruction
(02/10/2009) The Indonesian Ecolabel Institute is facilitating rainforest destruction by issuing "sustainable forest management certificates" to companies that convert natural and peatlands into industrial timber estates, allege national environmental groups.
Drought and deforestation in southeast Asia linked to climate change
(12/09/2008) Researchers have linked drought and deforestation in southeast Asia to climate change. Analyzing six years of climate and fire data from satellites, Guido van der Werf and colleagues report that burning of rainforests and peatlands in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea released an average of 128 million tons of carbon (470 million tons of carbon dioxide - CO2) per year between 2000 and 2006. Fire emissions showed highly variability during the period, but were greatest in dry years, such as those that occur during El Niño events. Borneo was the largest source of fire emissions during the period, averaging 74 million tons per year, followed by Sumatra, which showed a doubling in emissions between 2000 and 2006.
California joins effort to fight global warming by saving rainforests
(11/19/2008) California has joined the battle to fight global warming through rainforest conservation. In an agreement signed yesterday at a climate change conference in Beverly Hills, California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pledged financial assistance and technical support to help reduce deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia. The Memorandum of Understanding commits the California, Illinois and Wisconsin to work with the governors of six states and provinces within Indonesia and Brazil to help slow and stop tropical deforestation, a source of roughly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Oil palm expansion in Indonesian Borneo increased 400-fold from 1991-2007
(10/30/2008) Annual forest conversion to palm oil plantations increased 400-fold from 1,163 hectares in 1991 to 461,992 hectares in 2007 in Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, reports a new report published by Forest Watch Indonesia, a local NGO.
Malaysian oil palm firms eye Papua for expansion
(09/26/2008) Malaysian palm oil firms are looking to aggressively expand operations in Papua, the Indonesian part of New Guinea, reports Bernama.
Markets could save rainforests: an interview with Andrew Mitchell
(08/17/2008) Markets may soon value rainforests as living entities rather than for just the commodities produced when they are cut down, said a tropical forest researcher speaking in June at a conservation biology conference in the South American country of Suriname. Andrew Mitchell, founder and director of the London-based Global Canopy Program (GCP), said he is encouraged by signs that investors are beginning to look at the value of services afforded by healthy forests.
"Turtle carbon" could help protect rainforests and save endangered sea turtles
(08/12/2008) Using carbon credits to promote rainforest conservation could help protect endangered sea turtles in some parts of the world, argues a carbon finance expert.
Loggers, palm oil firms eye remote rainforests of Papua for development
(07/25/2008) Commodity producers are eyeing one of the world's last relatively untouched tracts of rainforest for development, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Papua New Guinea's rainforests disappearing faster than thought
(06/02/2008) Logging is taking a heavy toll on the forests of Papua New Guinea, suggests a new study. Using satellite images to reveal changes in forest cover between 1972 and 2002, researchers from the University of Papua New Guinea and the Australian National University found that Papua New Guinea (PNG) lost more than 5 million hectares of forest over the past three decades — total forest cover declined from 38 million hectares in 1972 to 33 million hectares in 2002. Worse, deforestation rates may be accelerating, with the pace of forest clearing reaching 362,000 hectares (895,000 acres) per year in 2001. The study warns that at current rates 53 percent of the country's forests could be lost or seriously degraded by 2021.
Papua signs REDD carbon deal to generate income from rainforest protection
(05/14/2008) The government of the Indonesian province of Papua has entered into an agreement with an Australian financial firm to establish a forestry-based carbon finance project on the island of New Guinea.
Al Gore's investment firm bets that rainforest conservation will be profitable
(05/14/2008) Al Gore's investment firm has signaled an interest in the emerging market for ecosystem services by taking an equity position in an innovative Australian financial company.
Papua New Guinea to ban log exports by 2010
(03/17/2008) Papua New Guinea (PNG) will phase out log exports by 2010 said Forest Minister Belden Namah last month. The move comes as the country seeks to gain greater control over illegal logging and promote expansion of oil palm cultivation.
New rule grants rainforest to mining firms in Indonesia for $80/acre
(03/10/2008) A new Indonesian rule will grant concessions to mining companies operating in rainforests for as little as $200 per hectare ($80/acre) according to Mining Advocacy Network, a conservation group.
How activists and scientists saved a rainforest island from destruction for palm oil
(02/12/2008) In mid-January, Mongabay learned that the government of Papua New Guinea had changed its mind: it would no longer allow Vitroplant Ltd. to deforest 70% of Woodlark Island for palm oil plantations. This change came about after one hundred Woodlark Islanders (out of a population of 6,000) traveled to Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay Province, to deliver a protest letter to the local government; after several articles in Mongabay and Pacific Magazine highlighted the plight of the island; after Eco-Internet held a campaign in which approximately three thousand individuals worldwide sent nearly 50,000 letters to local officials; and after an article appeared in the London Telegraph stating that due to deforestation on New Britain Island and planned deforestation on Woodlark Island, Papua New Guinea had gone from being an eco-hero to an 'eco-zero'.
Papua New Guinea's Environment Minister says foreign firms attempted to bribe him
(02/04/2008) The Environment and conservation minister of Papua New Guinea, Benny Allen, has stated that three different foreign firms attempted to bribe him.
Photos: Two unknown mammal species discovered in "lost world"
(12/16/2007) Two mammal species -- a tiny possum and a giant rat — discovered on a recent expedition to Indonesia's remote Foja Mountains in New Guinea are likely new to science, report researchers from conservation International (CI) and Indonesia Institute of Science (LIPI). The area won international fame after a December 2005 survey turned up dozens of new species and gave urgency to conservation efforts in a region where logging and forest clearing for agriculture are a serious concern.
70% of rainforest island to be cleared for palm oil
(12/13/2007) Mongabay.com received information this week that the Malaysian company Vitroplant has been granted the permit it needs to begin developing 70% of Woodlark Island into palm oil plantations. In an e-mail received by one of the opposition leaders to Vitroplant, Dr. Simon Piyuwes said that "the government granted the permit to the oil palm company despite a widespread campaign and pressure from NGOs". In an earlier article Dr. Piyuwes stated that "we [the islanders] do not have money to fight the giant. We only hope for the support from the NGOs, and the mercy of the government to withdraw the project." It seems the government has refused Dr. Piyuwes what he hoped for.
Carbon credits for forest conservation concept faces challenges
(11/27/2007) While environmentalists, scientists, development exports, and policymakers across the political spectrum are ethusiastic about the idea of offsetting carbon emissions by preventing deforestation (a concept known as "avoided deforestation" or Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)), the concept still faces many challenges, especially in implementation.
Planned logging of Woodlark Island for biofuels opposed by islanders and scientists
(11/12/2007) On Woodlark Island, one-hundred and seventy miles from Papua New Guinea, a struggle is occurring between islanders and biofuel company Vitroplant Ltd. The company is planning to clear much of the island's forest for oil palm plantations to produce biofuels. Vitorplant Ltd.'s contract specifies that they would deforest 60,000 hectares of land for plantations; Woodlark Island is 85,000 hectares in total, meaning over 70% of the island would be converted. Last week, one hundred islanders (out of a total population of 6,000) traveled to the capital of Milne Bay Province, Alotau, to voice their concern over the plans to turn their forested island into plantations.
Photos of New Guinea wildlife
Golden-neck Cassowary (Casuarius unappendiculatus)
One of the largest birds in the world, the Golden-neck Cassowary is found in the tropical rainforests of New Guinea. The species is famous for its powerful kick which it uses for defense.
Mother Matschie's Tree-kangaroo grooming its joey (Dendrolagus matschiei)
Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Goura victoria)
New Guinea Crocodile Skink (Tribolonotus gracilis)
Mongabay.com seeks to raise interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife, while examining the impact of emerging trends in climate, technology, economics, and finance on conservation and development (more)