An Island of Extraordinary Biodiversity

Both Opportunities and threats coexist in New Guinea

The island of New Guinea stands with the Amazon, the Serengeti Plains and the Great Barrier Reef as one of the great natural jewels of this planet with:
  • The world's third largest block of unbroken tropical rainforest
  • As many bird and plant species as nearby mega-diverse Australia in 1/10th the land area
  • More orchid species than any other place on earth
  • The most extensive and most diverse mangroves in the world
  • Home to almost all of the world's species of birds of paradise and tree kangaroos
  • The world's largest pigeon, smallest parrot and longest lizard
  • Some of the richest, most extensive and most pristine coral reefs in the world
  • Almost 1/5th of the world's human languages (1100)
Butterfly. / ©: WWF SPP
Butterfly.
© WWF SPP

.. (New Guinea) contains more strange and new and beautiful objects than any other part of the globe.

Sir Alfred Russell Wallace, famous biologist of 19th century

From Glaciers to Reefs

Few places on earth rival the diversity of New Guinea. Habitats vary from tropical heaths and grasslands, cloud forests, savannas, mangroves and swamp forest. Glacier melt waters flow into tropical rainforests and mangroves from high mountains towering over 5000 meters.
Forests and terrestrial species
The island is split between the country of Papua New Guinea in the east and the Indonesian province of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya) in the west. It now contains the largest tract of primary tropical forest remaining in Asia Pacific. Vast areas of forest continue to support harpy eagles, the great flightless cassowaries, cuscus and the astonishing birds of paradise.

Rivers and freshwater species
Some of the world's great rivers flow through these forests incuding the Asmat and Mamberano River Basins in Papua and the majestic Sepik river and lake country in PNG. The unique fish life of the Fly and Strickland Rivers and 12 endemic rainbow fish of Lake Kutubu mark New Guinea as one of the geat freshwater fish areas of the world.

With more than 5% of the world's species in less than 1% of its land area and around 2/3rd of which are unique to the island, New Guinea stands out clearly as a global hotspot of biodiversity.
Map of Papua New Guinea. / ©: WWF
Map of Papua New Guinea. Click to enlarge.
© WWF

Rural economy and community land ownership

High dependence on natural resources to meet basic needs
New Guinea's forests and rivers are even more important to the 7 million people who depend on them daily for their food, shelter and medicine. More than 80% of the island's people live in rural areas and follow a largely subsistence lifestyle, highly dependent on natural resources for their food security and to meet basic needs.

Extreme poverty and pressure on habitats
Poverty in some parts of the islands matches that of the poorest countries in Africa, with average rural income just US$25 per year. Poverty will become even more extreme if habitats are lost, harvests of natural resources are not managed at sustainable levels, and if alternative livelihoods are not developed.

Customary Land Tenure and Stewardship
In Papua New Guinea, 97% of the country's land is owned and managed under customary tenure and stewardship, and communities have the final say in all resource management decisions. Community tenure is also increasingly recognised in Papua.

Rural people in all parts of the island are expressing a strong interest in and support for efforts that help them improve their management of the natural resources upon which their livelihood depend and there is a growing sense of partnership within local communities.
Woman carrying pumpkin. / ©: Brent Stirton/Getty Images/WWF-UK
Woman carrying pumpkin.
© Brent Stirton/Getty Images/WWF-UK

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