June 27, 2011
Varanus macraei monitor lizard © Lutz Obelgonner
Final Frontier: Newly Discovered species of New Guinea (1998 – 2008) (PDF-4.7MB) is a tally of 10 years' worth of discoveries by scientists working on the world's second largest island.
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.
Final Frontier: Newly Discovered species of New Guinea (1998 – 2008)
Spilocuscus wilsoni cuscus, a type of marsupial © Tim Flannery
Litoria sauroni tree frog © Stephen Richards
Chrysiptera cymatilis damselfish © Gerald R Allen
WWF released the report to showcase New Guinea's biodiversity, which includes more than 800 species of birds and more than 25,000 species of vascular plants in New Guinea ranges. New Guinea's rainforests — the third largest after the Amazon and the Congo — and its coral reefs are astoundingly rich, yet still poorly studied relative to other places in the tropics. The dearth of information is a concern because New Guinea, which covers less than 0.5 percent of the Earth’s landmass, but is thought to be home to 6–8 percent of the world’s species, is facing an onslaught of threats from logging, large-scale industrial agriculture, and mining.
"This report shows that New Guinea’s forests and rivers are among the richest and most biodiverse in the world," said Neil Stronach, WWF Western Melanesia’s Program Representative, in a statement. "But it also shows us that unchecked human demand can push even the wealthiest environments to bankruptcy."
Click map to enlarge.
Ecosystems, especially forests, are threatened on both halves of New Guinea. On the western half — controlled by Indonesia — illegal logging is rampant and the government has granted, or is planning to grant, hundreds of thousands of hectares' worth of forests for conversion to timber and oil palm plantations and large-scale rice and sugarcane operations. On the eastern part of the island, the Papua New Guinea government recently stripped communities of traditional land rights in favor of big business, especially foreign agricultural firms, which have been winning Special Agricultural and Business Leases (SABLs) to develop forest lands (a moratorium on SABLs was put in place last month). Meanwhile industrial logging has degraded large tracts of rainforest. Both sides of New Guinea have been affected by mining operations, which at times have caused pollution and exacerbated social conflict.
Chilatherina alleni rainbowfish © Gerald R Allen
Melipotes carolae © Bruce Beehler
Delias durai buterfly © Henk van Mastrigt
But WWF says there is still time to protect New Guinea's flora, fauna, and incredible cultural richness (New Guinea is home to 15 percent of the world's spoken languages). It highlights the potential to boost the capacity of local communities to use legal mechanisms to protect their lands and resources from expropriation and expresses optimism that the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism could generate revenue to support conservation activities (although the report fails to note the widespread corruption associated with early REDD efforts in Papua New Guinea). Final Frontier concludes by arguing that certification schemes for timber and agricultural commodities could help maintain New Guinea's biodiversity in the future.
"It’s vital that New Guinea’s forests, rivers, lakes and seas are managed in a way that ensures they’ll continue to sustain economic and social development – and support the island’s fabulous wildlife," states the report. "If we’re to safeguard this ‘final frontier’, it’ll require active partnerships between New Guinea’s communities and a wide range of stakeholders."
New Guinea Slideshow
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 Wooland 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.