Environment Assessment of Bio-diversity and projects development in Papua New Guinea.

By: Stephen Keu M1_01UM9206

Graduate School of Science & Technology,

Faculty of Horticulture, Chiba University, Matsudo campus

1.0 Introduction

In attempting to write about environmental assessment of biodiversity in Papua New Guinea, I have encountered problems due to the enormity and complexity of the subject matter. It appears to me that "Environmental Assessment of Biodiversity" is a broadly used phrase applied to different levels of inventories virtually guided by their objectives and purpose. The assessment of biodiversity prior to any major project development is a requirement under the Environment Planning Act of Papua New Guinea. Such legislation calls for proponents of a proposed project to submit to the state an Environmental Plan (Environmental Impact Statement) for review and subsequent approval by a state minister. An Environmental Plan and its supplementary programs is prerequisite for a project to be implemented and therefore it can be submitted either on a voluntary or requisition bases.

Although Papua New Guinea is known to be diverse, there are virtually no quantitative data on plant diversity in Papua New Guinea, let alone discrete surveys carried out by various organizations including the Department of Environment and Conservation. PNG is categorized as a developing country virtually new to the face of civilization, but the rate at which it is developing has been rapid for the past two decades. International organizations have recognized PNG as an important region for biodiversity conservation. In that sense, PNG's biodiversity demands balanced planning. However, like other tropical wilderness areas on their priority list, PNG is regarded as having the opportunity for effective conservation at relatively low cost, given that these wilderness regions are still largely intact and have low human population density.

The National Goal and Directive Principle of the Constitution of Papua New Guinea calls for the nation's natural resources and environment to be conserved and used for the collective benefit for all, and to be replenished for the benefit of the future generations. This points to the need for the development of natural resources on a sustainable basis. In the recent past there have been numerous conferences, meetings, symposiums, workshops and awareness campaigns relating to conservation and advocating the principle of sustainable resource use and development. .

In this report I discuss the current status of biodiversity in Papua New Guinea, its natural resources data base, and the legislative requirements for natural resources development. This report is written to fulfill the requirements of the graduate class on Environmental Ecology thought by Prof. Momohara of the faculty of horticulture at Chiba University.

2.0 Background

2.1 Biodiversity of Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the largest island nation in the Pacific and the richest, in flora and fauna, of all nations in the Pacific Rim. PNG is geologically complex, and lies upon at least three of the earth's main tectonic plates (Australia, Pacific, Solomon). It comprises the eastern half of the subcontinental island of New Guinea, plus the great islands of the Bismarck Archipelago and the northernmost of the Solomon group, as well as 600 additional smaller islands. The country shares political boundaries with four other countries : Australia to the south, the Solomon Islands to the east, Guam in the north and Indonesia to the west. Geographically, its border stretches from the equator to 12 degrees south latitude, and encompasses 465,000 square kilometers. It is tectonically active, with volcanism, earth movements, and mountain building. The island nation supports a remarkable range of equatorial environments - from high alpine peaks, several of which rise above 4,000m (with the highest, Mt Wilhelm at 4,509m one of the highest points between Asia and the Antarctic) to extensive pristine tracts of lowland alluvial rainforest as well as coral reef systems. This is a diversity not found in many other places on earth. As an example, Johns (1992) points out that the diversity of montane forest systems in PNG compares with similar areas in the Andes.

Perhaps because of the breath-taking welter of earth events, Papua New Guinea is also very rich biologically. More than seven hundred species of birds inhabit Papua New Guinea's varied environments. This inventory includes some of the world's largest (and smallest) parrots, the largest pigeons, the worlds' three species of cassowaries, and more than two thirds of the known birds.

2.2 Reasons for bio-diversity conservation in Papua New Guinea.

It is estimated that PNG has more then 5% of the world's biodiversity, therefore conservationists refer to it as a "hot spot" for nature conservation. PNG is a region worthy of urgent conservation planning attention because potential high benefits will be derived, especially for the nation's societies. PNG exploits its natural resources for economic return, and the rate at which such resources (forests for example) are being utilized is rapid. The ecological viability of the nation's biodiversity is presently at risk due to unsustainable logging and agricultural practices. Before coming to Japan for further studies, I served as an Environmental Officer with the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation and witnessed unsustainable logging practices throughout the country. PNG is an island nation with growing population: most of the flat plains have been worked through shifting cultivation, industrial and agricultural practices which left few forest stands except in the mountainous regions.

In contemporary PNG, rapid development of agriculture has been the major cause of habitat destruction. For example, PNG is the home of the largest butterfly in the world (Queen Alaxandrae) and the preservation of its habitat is important. It is therefore necessary for the country to apply adequate conservation measures in order to preserve the few remaining marine and terrestrial habitats.

However, there are numerous reasons for biodiversity conservation in Papua New Guinea. In PNG, unlike the United States or Japan, most of the population lives in rural areas and depends very much on the environment for daily subsistence. Cash flow within most communities is low compared to that of developed nations, whilst people consider environment as a basic source of livelihood. Although the people are gradually emerging into the cash economy, they still live by subsistence gardening and farming. One of the conspicuous features at present in most rural areas is that they erect shelters utilizing raw materials such as bamboo, rattan, poles, nipa and lmperata cylindrica. The villagers build canoes for transportation from trees extracted in the forest immediately near them. They also hunt local game and fish in the nearby creeks and rivers, reefs, and oceans in order to sustain their protein needs. It is apparent that such a life style points to the need for effective conservation of these vital resources to satisfy the needs of the people. It is my belief that conservation in a developing country such as PNG must be approached differently to that of a developed nation such as Japan. Hence, conservation objectives will vary especially to the end use such as reserves, parks, seed banks etc.

3.0 Biodiversity assessment, surveys and data base

In order to proceed, we need to firstly understand what is biodiversity. Many authors argue that diversity is not an entity in itself but it is a property. Therefore, it refers to the attribute of a set of objects of not being identical, of varying one from one another in one or more characteristics (Dictionary of Ecology, 1985). When applied to organisms, it refers to the universal characteristic of all living things that each individual being is unique; that is, no two organisms are identical, with the possible exception of identical twins and clones.

The biodiversity assessments in Papua New Guinea are conducted in different ways, depending on the objectives and the end use of the data. Assessments are conducted by different entities such as the government/state, private resource projects, NGO groups and private landholders. The main approach is through the application of transect survey method. Once an area of interest is established a 100 m transect is walked using compass and hip chain to measure distance. Resource developers such as the logging companies, and perhaps the state, normally carry out a 100% sample survey.

However, in a country such as Papua New Guinea with highly diverse marine and terrestrial ecosystems associated with complex topography, the total biodiversity of the country must be estimated to the nearest accuracy level. PNG's biodiversity has been studied on a broader base, with classification and distribution of major types. During the colonial times initial aerial survey of the country was conducted by the Australian army that produced black and white SKAIPIKSA aerial photographs which were compiled by the CSIRO scientists at 1:500,000 as part of the PNG biodiversity and natural resources map. In the early 1970s, another series of aerial surveys were conducted at an average scale of 1:105,000 at sea level. This is the most recent and uniform total coverage available for the whole of Papua New Guinea. A 1:100,000 scale topographic map series was produced for the entire country. These maps were used to identify vegetation and regrowth patterns. These maps also provided a broad overview of the distribution and intensity of the agricultural land-use in Papua New Guinea. Fourteen classes of agricultural land use intensity were described and mapped and the total area of each class of land use intensity was presented on both provincial and national bases (Saunders, 1993). A further development saw 1:50,000 topographic mapping, and in recent times cadersteral maps at a scale of 1:20, 000 are now in use for urban and road constructions. These maps are relevant and used for vegetation assessment in all project implementation in Papua New Guinea. They assist managers and planners to assess the potential of projects prior to their actual implementation.

A project titled "The PNG Rapid Biodiversity Appraisal Pilot Project" funded by the World Bank and AusAID, focused on the goals of (1) establishing a national protected area network and to (2) identifying explicit options and constrains for land management of the forestry and agriculture sectors. This was done to facilitate adequate response to the requirements of the conventions to which Papua New Guinea has been a signatory: the 1992 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. This project accepted the internationally agreed 10% target as the starting point for determining priority areas for biodiversity protection. This target was then converted into a biodiversity goal by determining the number of environmental domains which those groups defined at some level. When combined with a similarly determined number of vegetation types, intersection with physico-climatic zones could be represented for any 10% of PNG chosen. The level of the variation turned out to be 608 environmental domains, and 564 vegetation, plus 10% species profile clusters and an additional 11 rare and threatened species.

However, it was discovered in this project study that while a 10% based target is only seen as an initial international standard or performance indicator, PNG may adopt a higher target of at least 15% of the country as a baseline. It is envisaged that additional areas would be needed to meet that goal in practice (Kula and Jefferies, 1993). I mentioned earlier that state agencies and other NGO groups who are interested in tropical ecosystems carry out biodiversity assessments. Take a particular case where a survey was conducted by a team led by Debra Wright of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). This team enumerated all the trees, vines on hectare bases in the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area, and discovered amazing data with 228 tree species in one hectare. It seems that this plot has one of the most diverse tree floras known besides other one-hectare plot in South America. Numerous other studies conducted by the PNG Forestry Department discovered that species composition varies with rainfall, altitude, temperature, and slope factors. Generally, in PNG, higher biodiversity seems to go with higher rainfall. In other studies such as those done at Kamalai Wildlife Center near Lae city, a transect was established starting from the coral reef edge (-10m) to the highest mountain peak (4,500m) and a record of all life form within a span of 20m were enumerated. Data gathered in this study can be accessed through the PNG Resources Information System facility at the Department of Environment & Conservation.

3.1 Assessment of Vegetation

Vegetation is one of the major components of the total biodiversity and is assessed using many different survey techniques. Vegetation in PNG has been classified by the CSIRO scientists into nine major classes or types and they include; a) Forests, b) Woodland, c) Scrub, d) Savanah, e) Grassland, f) Herbaceous swamp vegetation, g) Pioneer vegetation, h) Mangrove vegetation, i) Man made vegetation.

Apparently, forests types were identified and classed into twenty different forms and given the following names; Large to medium crowned on plains and fans, Open forest on plains and fans, Small-crown on plains and fans, Littoral forests, Swamp forests, Medium crown lowland hill forests, Small crown lowland hill forests, Large-crown lowland hill forests, Lower montane forest, Coniferous lower montane forest, Very small crown lower montane forest, Montane forest, Dry evergreen forest. The Woodland on the other hand was classified into two sub orders and they include "woodland" and swamp woodland. Scrub and Savannah vegetation types have one class each while grassland was further divided into swamp grassland and grasses. Mixed herbaceous vegetation, pioneer communities and mangroves remains undivided. Man made vegetation type was divided into urban and other landuse.

Moreover, detailed survey of vegetation either for research purposes takes different forms but two assessment methods applied in most cases were profile assessment on transects 100m X 10m; and rapid survey of life-form present in 25 m circle. These methods were designed for rapid use in tropical forests and woodlands and are used to provide an assessment of the type and quality, but not taxonomic composition of the vegetation being sampled. They seem appropriate for quickly assessing the vegetation type and level of degradation.

 3.2 PNG Resource Information System (PNGRIS)

The PNG Resource Information System is an integrated collection of spatially based information relevant to land evaluation for agriculture uses. It consisted of two parts; i.e.; a map base, which provides a mapped representation of the basic spatial units, and a database, which contains geographic data corresponding to the RMUs of the map base. The system had been developed by respective government agencies dealing with natural resources and the Australian government in conjunction with the CSIRO scientists. It was then in 1975 that the information contained in this data were derived from a major assessment drive of the potential of agricultural resources, both large-holder and capital intensive. The system was undertaken on a broad sense that the whole country was inventoried basing on a map scale of 1: 500,000 and the description of the land area called Resources Mapping Unit (RMUs) in terms of their natural resources, 1980 population and current land-use. It was in the 1950 's and 1960's, when large areas of the country were still unknown to the administrators, let alone to science, CSIRO conducted a series of detailed surveys of soils, vegetation, land form and climate through some of the most remote river valleys and isolated highlands. Based on these surveys development of the set of information on natural resources of PNG began at its infant stage. In 1981, such information was published in book and map form, either in CSIRO land series, or in four books summarizing and extending these survey data to cover climate, soil, geomorphology and vegetation of the whole of Papua New Guinea.

The PNG Resource Information System (PNGRIS) computer facilities were set up in various government offices and departments who deal with resource management and utilization. As a specific case, the Department of Environment & Conservation, my present employer, utilizes such data to conduct technical assessment of any project proponent's environmental plan prior to the state's approval or rejection. The National Forest Authority, which is the lead agency tasked to manage the country's forest resources extensively, utilizes such data in areas of forest management and classification, vegetation mapping, and soil studies. This has led the Agency (NFS) to develop a computerized forest inventory mapping system for the whole country which is currently being used to monitor deforestation through mechanized logging activities. The Department of Agriculture and Life stock (DAL) used the data in variety of ways to meet its management needs. The National Planning Office also utilizes the data to plan for major infrastructure development projects.

 4.0 Natural Resources Project Development and Legislative Framework.

 The Environmental Planning Act for Papua New Guinea requires submission of an Environmental Plan by potential project developers. Compulsory documentation of the existing biophysical and social environments, and potential environmental impacts must be included in the Environmental Plan. Depending on the magnitude of the proposed project's operation, anticipated impacts and location of the project, environmental plans are required. For example, for projects located in areas that would be considered as fragile, such as wet lands, steep slopes or marine ecosystems, an Environmental Plan must be produced by the proponent to indicate itsplan to manage the environment while conducting its business activities. A project proponent prepares and submits an environmental plan to the state (DEC) relating to its operations. Upon receipt of the submission the state then places a notice requiring public comments through local media. Accordingly, it takes 28 days for the Plan to be technically assessed by the state through its relevant agencies. A public hearing is also carried out to gauge the views of the public and the people immediately affected by the project. In addition, an Environmental Plan can be considered as a feasibility investigation and documentation of the existing biota and abiotic environment. In exceptional cases, a feasibility study is carried out and upon such a study an Environmental Inception report is written and presented to the state. Following from this an Environmental Plan is prepared and submitted.

 3.1 Environmental Plan or Environmental Impact Statement (E/P, EIS).

  The Environmental Plan contains information which describes the proposed project (be it Forestry, major Agricultural or any other infrastructure developments etc.). Potential changes in social, cultural, physical or biological characteristics, the use and discharge of contaminants, the costs and advantages of the project, the short and long term objectives and any other matters considered necessary by the state must be stated in an environmental plan. The basis of environmental sustainability within a project depends very much on its adherence to the intentions stated in an Environmental Plan. Nevertheless, this points to the need for efficient management during the project's operation. Within the environmental plan, predictions of the anticipated environmental impacts are stated and the project proponent is fully informed of its role in terms of its environmental responsibilities.

 3.2 Environmental Management and Monitoring Program (EMMP)

 The Environmental Management & Monitoring Program spells out the actual programs and procedures for monitoring the project's influence during the operational stages of the project implementation. The EM&MP stated routine monitoring plans for issues such as discharges, effluents, and frequency of reporting to the state and the immediate affected communities. It is a support program that ensures that the intentions stated in the Environmental Plan are met.

 4.3 Waste Management Plan

 The Waste Management Plan identifies the various solid waste streams generated at a project's operational sites. The plan spells out proper methods of handling and disposal of both solid and liquid wastes. This plan is vital for general housekeeping practices within company camps and facilities. It also contains information on drainage design, including landfill and other disposal sites.

 The waste management plan supports the EM & MP and the overall intentions stipulated within the Environmental Plan.

 3.4 Codes of Practice.

 Environmental Code of Practice is designed by the PNG's department of Environment and Conservation in conjunction with the project proponents on a premise that proper housekeeping practices are employed. The individual project proponents adhere to statements enunciated in the code of practice while conducting its business. The Code of Practice is only applied to smaller enterprises that are considered to generate less significant wastes. Almost similar to the Waste Management Plan, it promotes good environmental practices within camps and industrial facilities.

 Apparently, many of the industrial companies operating in Papua New Guinea do have their own code of practice that governs the behavior of their employees.

   3.5 Rehabilitation plan

The Rehabilitation plan is required mostly of the mining companies, requiring them to rehabilitate overburden land areas after the mining operation has been decommissioned. The state, through the Department of Environment and Conservation, requires such a plan five (5) years prior to the closure of mining operations. This plan requires the company to remain after cessation of mining and restore the overburden sites before leaving PNG shores.

 5.0 Conclusions

The assessment of biodiversity in Papua New Guinea has been done on various scales and still continues at the present time. There are databases available in computers, down to species level. Many plant species have not been identified and named. Some may only be named as far as family or genus levels. There is a great need for further surveys and botanical work to be done in this part of the world. Environmental assessments of biodiversity in Papua New Guinea must be prior to any project development, be it mining, agricultural, or industrial development and forestry. Such studies are prerequisite to project approval by the state. Such assessment results are presented in the form of an Environmental Plan as required by the Environmental Planning Act of Papua New Guinea. This has made Papua New Guinea have some of the best Environmental Plans written in the South Pacific Region.


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