Sepik - Integrated River Basin Management

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Pacific Ocean > Papua New Guinea

Pukapuki local, Tony, prepares pumpkin. East Sepik province, Papua New Guinea.
© WWF United Kingdom / Brent Stirton/Getty Images


The project aims to assist government and local stakeholders in the design of an integrated river basin management (IRBM) framework for the Sepik river. This framework will protect biological diversity and ecological processes while promoting the sustainable management of natural resources, supported by a properly implemented catchment policy.


The Sepik river runs 1,126km from its origins in the mountains to the sea. It begins in Papua New Guinea, heads northwest and goes into Indonesian Papua before turning back north east into Papua New Guinea for the rest of its length. Like the Amazon, it is a serpentine river winding through the lowlands.

The Sepik has a huge 77,700km2 catchment. Unlike many other large rivers, the Sepik has no delta whatsoever, but flows straight into the sea in northern New Guinea, about 100km east of the town of Wewak.

The people along the river depend heavily on it for transportation, water and food. Their cultural links with the Sepik river are symbolised in many of their ancient and spiritual rituals, such as the manhood initiation.


1. Catchment management plans

The aim of the project is to develop independent capacity among the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and Ambunti Local Level Government (LLG) staff to produce catchment management plans with local stakeholders. The project will explore the viability of establishing a local catchment management institution representing the range of interest groups in the basin that will be able to work with DEC to continue the management planning and ensure its implementation.

2. Community-based conservation areas

These areas will be incorporated into the Papua New Guinea (PNG) protected area network managed by DEC. Local support for developing and implementing management plans will be provided by Ambunti-based groups such as Ambunti District Local Environment Foundation (ADLEF) and the local government. Community-based protected areas will be established as largely self-reliant bodies, requiring limited input from external agencies.

3. Community awareness of the Sepik river values

Throughout the project, a clear aim will be the development of better understanding among the public of the importance of the Sepik as an environmentally important catchment area. This will be done in partnership with institutions such as the Tourism Promotion Authority and Wetlands International, which will hopefully continue to market the values of this unique tropical river system.


An actively applied management framework for integrated river basin management (IRBM) will be established in the form of databases, procedures and materials guiding catchment management for the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and the Department of East Sepik. These will provide the capability for conservation managers to identify key elements of biodiversity for protection and priority threats as well as to facilitate action to address these threats. Ongoing monitoring of the catchment health and updating of the catchment plan will increase the understanding of the environment among local groups and will spark action.

The positive example of a working catchment management initiative will be promoted to strengthen policies for catchment protection and increase government interest in maintaining freshwater resources in the country. Similarly, the effort to apply these policies should leave a more robust wetlands/catchment unit within the government and greater support from local NGOs and communities.

It is hoped that this increased capacity at national and local level will lead to similar IRBM initiatives in other priority catchments.

The establishment of wetland and forest protected areas with effective management plans and active management committees will ensure an increase in the levels of protection to areas of biological and ecological significance.

An increased knowledge of the environmental values of the Sepik river basin will allow efforts in protected area establishment to areas of highest biodiversity importance. These protected areas will play an important role in a national protected area system.

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