Deforestation in New Guinea | WWF
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images

New Guinea's forest

A few places on earth rival the diversity of New Guinea. This ecoregion covers habitats as varied as tropical heaths and grasslands, cloud forests, savannas, mangroves and swamp forests. Glacier melt waters flow into tropical rainforests and mangroves from high mountains greater than 5000 meters.
This island of New Guinea is split between the country of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the east and the Indonesian province of Papua 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. This relatively small island covers less than 0.5% of the Earth’s landmass but shelters 6-8% of the world’s species. Over two-thirds of these species are not found anywhere else on earth. 

Despite its remote location, New Guinea’s natural habitats are being lost. The island’s forests are facing serious threats, including logging, mining, wildlife trade and conversion to agriculture, particularly palm oil. New Guinea is just on the cusp of major deforestation and aerial photographs are starting to show a patchwork of conversion to palm oil and other crops. 

The threat to New Guinea's forest

The removal of natural forest cover poses the most significant threat to New Guinea’s forest and their biodiversity. Industrial logging is to blame for much of this degradation and loss with almost 21 million hectares of forest in PNG alone included in existing or proposed logging concessions. Clearance of forest for palm oil and the development of open cast mines pose further threats to the maintenance of the New Guinea’s forests and rivers and the wellbeing of people dependent upon them.

In PNG between 1972 and 2002, independent studies have shown that 24% of rainforests were cleared or degraded through logging or subsistence agriculture. 

With population expected to double in the next 30 years, the pressure will only increase as the search for fuel wood, building timbers and land for shifting cultivation extends into primary forest areas.

The solution for New Guinea's forest

It’s vital that New Guinea’s forests are managed in a way that ensures they’ll continue to sustain economic and social development – and support the island’s fabulous wildlife. If we’re to safeguard this ‘final frontier’, it’ll require active partnerships between New Guinea’s communities and a wide range of stakeholders.

WWF continues to work alongside other organisations towards better long-term planning for New Guinea. This includes improved communications between governments, local communities, non-government organisations and companies working towards a representative system of protected areas and sustainably managed areas, which complements New Guinea’s customary land ownership. This system should not only be supported by governments, but sustainably financed through operating permits issued to responsible resource industries. 

Opportunities exist through schemes that offer payment for environmental services. The crucial role of natural forests in the carbon cycle and the world’s climate is generally recognised, and planning is well advanced for schemes such as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) – which pays developing countries for the carbon they store in their natural forests. Biodiversity offsets and water catchment levies also have potential to help developing regions, like New Guinea, better manage the Earth’s last great natural habitats.

Read more about the threats and solutions here

People and forest

© Brent Stirton / Getty images

Six million people daily depend on New Guinea's forest and rivers for their food, shelter and medicine. 

New Guinea forest facts

  • New Guinea is the largest tropical island on Earth and is divided between the countries of Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the East and Indonesia in the West.
  • The forests of New Guinea still cover a massive 70% of the island.
  • New Guinea contains the third largest tract of rainforest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo Basin.
  • Papua New Guinea alone harbours an estimated 6% of the world’s species.
  • More than 1,000 new species and 218 new kinds of plants were discovered on the island of New Guinea from 1998 to 2008.

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