Papua New Guinea is located within the Coral Triangle, a region recognized for its unparalleled coral reef biodiversity. With more than 600 islands and an extensive coastline, the majority of PNG’s people live along the coast. Coral reefs and lagoon systems provide coastal villagers with vital protein, income, and protection against storms, as well as serve as the basis for traditional knowledge, rituals, and cultural identity.
Contrary to several other countries within this region, relatively low human population and geographic isolation have allowed most reefs in PNG to remain in good health. However, this situation is changing as the country modernizes, with human populations growing, social structures changing, and the need and desire to enter the cash economy increasing. The coral reefs are under accelerating pressure from commercial and subsistence exploitation due to growing local and overseas demands. Relatively untapped and rich mineral and forest resources have led to massive growth of extractive industries which, in turn, increase pollution and sedimentation that choke and poison reef systems as well as contribute to the breakdown of traditional lifestyles and social systems.
Climate change is expected to have multiple and possibly devastating effects on vulnerable small island communities, including those in PNG. Warmer seas will lead to coral bleaching and the potential loss of large areas of formerly healthy coral. Further predicted consequences of climate change suggest that PNG will experience more frequent droughts, heavy precipitation events, extreme storm surges, and more intense tropical cyclones, which will significantly impact coral seas and marine resources.
WCS undertakes regular marine monitoring in New Ireland Province to monitor long-term changes in this region of the coral triangle and to also inform local communities on the ecological status of their marine environment, and provide information to develop management strategies for conservation, resource management and sustainability. The monitoring includes; surveys of coral species and abundance, coral recruitment (this involves counting the small spats of corals that have just settled on the reef to form new coral colonies), and coral mortality and health (recording the size of area on a coral colony that has died due to coral bleaching, attachment by Crown of Thorns starfish or Drupella snails, and coral diseases).
Surveys also include information on fish diversity, abundance and biomass, surveys of benthic substrate (includes corals, algae and other life forms that is growing or attached to the reef), and surveys of key macro-invertebrate (these are mostly the commercially species such as sea cucumbers, lobsters, trochus and giant clams). WCS also works actively with communities to conserve coral species and promote their sustainable use.
Andra Island in Manus Province is renowned for its lime production from coral species and the island has a near monopoly in this province. Lime is used for the traditional chewing of betel nut (Archa catechu) and the sale of lime is an important economic activity for the Andra community. WCS research revealed a fast depletion branching corals (Acroporidae) used for lime production. To promote their conservation WCS helped locals to establish coral farms for commercial purposes to assist in supporting their livelihood while naturally grown acroporides are left alone in the wild to support the marine ecosystem.