Forests of Papua New Guinea
A Portuguese man, Jorge de Meneses is thought to be the first European explorer to find Papua New Guinea and named it Ilhas dos Papuas (Island of the Fuzzy Hairs). It was later named New Guinea by a Spanish explorer, and hence its final name Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Papua New Guinea is located in the Pacific Ocean, north of Australia, and consists of several islands, the largest of which houses the capital Port Moresby.
Papua New Guinea is covered by tropical rainforest. It has the largest area of rainforest in the Asia-Pacific region and the third largest in the entire world. Out of the 46 million hectares, 39 million are forest, with the remaining land consisting of plains, flat grassland and mangrove swamps. The huge variety of forest spans from high-altitude mountain forest, moving down towards lowland mixed forests and then further to diverse mangrove areas. The forest supports a highly diverse ecosystem with approximately 20 000 different types of plants and 1 500 species of birds (750 of which are unique to the island). It has as much variety as Australia with its huge area, despite being only 10% of the size!
Papua New Guinea has some of the world’s extremes living in its environment and examples include the largest butterfly, smallest parrot and the longest lizard. Unfortunately, it also has one of the worst deforestation problems.
Papua New Guinea currently has 40% of its original forests intact, and unless awareness and education improves and basic policies change, 85% of the frontier forests are under threat of destruction.
As well as supporting an amazing diversity of plant and animal life, the rainforest is very important to New Guineans as it provides about 20-30% of the food supply, as well as raw materials for building purposes, tools and weapons, artefacts, clothing and personal ornamentation, medicinal products, and material for ritual and cultural purposes.
Major dangers to the future of the forest are clearance for oil palm and the development of open cast mines. Historically, natural disasters have also destroyed the rainforest in PNG; for example, Cyclone Justin (1996) ruined 650 hectares.
However, logging is the main contributor to the endangerment of the forest. Almost 21 million hectares of forest in PNG are included in existing or proposed logging concessions. It has been estimated that all commercial valued timber in PNG could be felled within a generation, possibly within a decade. If the forest goes, a beautiful and irreplaceable ecosystem, together with some of the world's most ancient cultures, will also be lost. The forests are critical in stabilising the environment and further loss can only increase the greenhouse effect further.