New Guinea

New Guinea

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

Mongabay Environmental News

Environmental Headlines

Mongabay, founded in 1999, seeks to raise interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife, aims to be your best source of tropical rainforest conservation and environmental science news.
Amazon River aerial photo on the Peru-Colombia frontier, clearly showing the stream’s heavy load of “brown-river” sediment. Photo courtesy of NASA

Scientists say the dams will block long-established annual sediment and nutrient flows, the loss of which could devastate Amazonian aquatic, rainforest and delta ecosystems.

The camera mounts that create a composite gigapixel image that allow remote study of a system from various scales

Domus Longus will be installed in the waters off Sulawesi to commemorate Coral Day there.

A vacation visit to the island of Nosy Hara off the coast of Madagascar resulted in the accidental discovery of a ...

Land concessions for large-scale agricultural plantations are stripping off Cambodia’s forest cover, according to a new report.

A Chinese company is planning a 24-year drilling project in a major national park in Argentina, attracting condemnation from conservation groups ...

The Ethical Ape is a regular column published by author and researcher Shawn Thompson. The views expressed in the column are ...

Will India use its influence as the world's top importer of palm oil to push sustainability?

The government is also pushing to revise a 25-year-old conservation law.

One degree of warming would drastically reduce the habitat of nearly all of the region's endemic vertebrates, according to a recent ...
featured image

Woman who spotted Asian giant softshell turtle in a Malaysian Borneo market bought it; turned it over to wildlife experts, who ...

This odd, armored animal is the planet’s most trafficked mammal, with its meat considered a delicacy and its scales a cure-all ...

Primate researcher says that gleaning local knowledge, and working hand-in-hand with local communities is key to conservation.
Snowy owl takes flight_JimCumming-RedBubble_reverse

A system that can help even non-experts see relationships between environmental and animal movement data
Nashipai along Ewaso Nyiro River

We explore the nexus of communities and technology in human-carnivore conflict and wildlife conservation. This approach includes novel mobile phone-based systems ...

A university lecturer hunted the endangered primates for his Christmas dinner and posted photos of the carcasses to Facebook.

In 1997, the government of Botswana began evicting indigenous San and Bakgalagadi people from their homelands in the Central Kalahari Game ...
Sarawak has lost much of its primary forest to development. Photo taken in Gunung Mulu National Park by Morgan Erickson-Davis.

The arrest warrant came after Sarawak Report published stories detailing how a sum of about $700 million was transferred to the ...
Yupanqui, his wife Elena and a neighbor warming up for a tourist visit. Credit: Saul Elbein

An end to conflict and a rise in tourism brings prosperity and environmental challenges to the Peruvian Andes.

The development of REDD+ in Indonesia as an experiment in bringing together carbon abatement, equity development and biodiversity protection is continuing ...
Load More ...

Sign In

Connect with


Connect with

Reset Your Password

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)

Tropical Fish
Kids' Site
Topics | RSS
TCS Journal


   The Canopy
   Forest Floor
   Forest Waters
   Indigenous People
   Saving Rainforests
   Amazon rainforest
   Borneo rainforest
   Congo rainforest
   Country Profiles
   Works Cited
   For Kids
   For Teachers
   Expert Interviews
   Rainforest News
  Forest data
   Global deforestation
   Tropical deforestation
   By country
   Deforestation charts
   Regional forest data
   Deforestation drivers
 XML Feeds
 Other Languages

what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact

Copyright Rhett Butler 1994-2009

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated from operations (server, data transfer, travel) are mitigated through an association with Anthrotect,
an organization working with Afro-indigenous and Embera communities to protect forests in Colombia's Darien region.
Anthrotect is protecting the habitat of mongabay's mascot: the scale-crested pygmy tyrant.

"Rainforest" is used interchangeably with "rain forest" on this site. "Jungle" is generally not used.