CAS IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Papua New Guinea is located in the far western Pacific, north of Australia, and occupies the eastern half of the second largest island in the world. It is the largest land mass in Melanesia, a tropical island region of extraordinary biological and cultural diversity. PNG encompasses a territory that has been geologically assembled from three major independent pieces and many minor fragments over the last 50 million years. The suturing of disparate large landmasses into one huge island has produced a steep, rugged topography that has so far prevented large scale development, and the interior remains densely forested. PNG is globally recognized as one of the world’s last, large, relatively wild places, and is a very high global conservation priority. From the pioneering anthropological artifacts obtained during the 1920’s Pacific voyages of Rollo Beck, to the dozens of new marine species described by CAS zoologists, to the recent discovery of poisonous songbirds by CAS ornithologist Dr. Jack Dumbacher, CAS has a long history of exploration and discovery in PNG.
Learn more about the people and institutions involved and our conservation actions in Papua New Guinea.
People and Institutions
Much of the Academy’s work in PNG was facilitated by the defunct Christensen Research Institute and endowment fund. In 1985 this internationally operated research facility hosted researchers from America, Britain, Australia and Papua New Guinea to conduct biotic surveys on the island at an unprecedented scale. CAS scientists such were among the first to conduct biological surveys in Papua New Guinea from the Christensen Institute. Since the closing of the Institute in the early 1990’s, CAS research has continued in Papua New Guinea. With funding from the National Science Foundation, Academy Provost Dr. Terry Gosliner and his students continue to describe new species of Indo-Pacific nudibranchs, while ornithologist and curator Dr. Jack Dumbacher is actively researching the biogeography of a group of poisonous New Guinea birds.
Historically, the forbidding topography of PNG led to the development of many isolated indigenous cultures; over 800 languages are still spoken in this one country. This cultural diversity is part of the solution to maintaining the regions rich biological endowment, since 90% of the island is controlled by clans through a system of traditional land tenure. However, economic development is also a priority for the country’s 6 million inhabitants, 40% of which live below the poverty line. Striking a balance between economic development and biodiversity conservation requires basic information about what species occur where, as well as training future conservation biologists who have the knowledge to manage biological resources. CAS scientists and their colleagues have described dozens of new species in the land and waters of PNG, knowledge that contributes to conservation and management of PNG’s biodiversity. CAS is also involved in educating native biologists to be future conservation leaders. Currently, Tanya Zeriga, is working with Dr. Dumbacher to understand the biogeography of PNG lowland birds, with funding from the National Science Foundation. Tanya is a graduate of the University of Papua New Guinea, and she is currently affiliated with the Wildlife Conservation Society New Guinea program.
Read about new species described by CAS research in Papua New Guinea