Funding source: United Nations Development Program

Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Melanesian islands within its territory are among the most biodiversity-rich regions in the Pacific Ocean.  Rainforests dominate the landscape in both the rugged highlands and the swampy lowlands, providing multi-level habitats for a mix of flora and fauna, many of which originated from Asia in the north and Antarctica in the south. A rare equatorial glacier on the high Central Range adds another dimension to PNG’s complement of terrestrial ecoregions.

PNG is also one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world. Approximately 98 percent of the land is owned by clans under customary law, and most coastal and marine resources are managed under clan structures.

Conservation planning and protected area management in this clan-based context are therefore extremely complex - for the customary land owners and the foreign companies seeking to extract benefits from the islands’ rich natural resources.

UQ researchers are working with the United Nations Development Program and PNG Department of Environment and Conservation to devise a Protected Area Policy which meets both international obligations and the customary landowners’ expectations.

Currently, only four percent of PNG’s land is ‘protected’ or classified as Wildlife Management Areas. Less than one percent of the marine environment is protected. Without a workable Protected Area Policy and plan, PNG faces significant threats to its biodiversity values from forest conversion, land degradation, and resource extraction.

UQ’s expertise is helping to identify policy options for sustainable management of terrestrial and marine protected areas. This includes leading the stakeholder review and consultation processes, developing alternative solutions to the existing institutional arrangements, recommending new biodiversity offset schemes, and formulating the Policy’s final wording, all to strengthen the overall management of PNG’s unique protected areas.