While occupying only 1% of the world’s land mass, PNG hosts almost 7% of the world’s biodiversity [1]. The country has a diverse interior that consists of spectacular highland valleys, grasslands, vast expanses of tropical rainforests, ancient swamps, and mangroves [2]. Papua New Guinea harbors a rich array of animals, including an estimated 150,000 species of insects, 314 species of freshwater fishes, 641+ species of amphibians and reptiles, 740 species of birds, and 276 species of mammals [3]. Included in this are the world’s largest species of butterfly - the Queen Alexandra Birdwing, the world’s largest species of tree frog, the planet’s only poisonous birds and 12 of the 14 known species of tree kangaroos [2]. Additionally, the country is home to an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 vascular plants [2]. Biodiversity endemism likely exceeds 30% for Papua New Guinea and new species continue to be uncovered [3].

Papua New Guinea lies within the Coral Triangle and has the highest marine biodiversity richness of the Pacific Ocean. It's extensive fringing and barrier reefs of 14,535 km² together with other marine associations contain over 2,800 fish species. The country also lies on the West Pacific flyway of seabirds and its waters are on migratory paths for cetaceans, turtles and tuna [3]. Additionally, PNG’s marine and coastal ecosystems play a vital role in the national economy including sustaining the livelihoods of its coastal and island-dwelling communities [2]. The country hosts 8% of the global tuna stock, although PNG’s tuna industry is under threat due to the overexploitation of yellowfin and big-eye tuna [4]. At the national level, PNG’s fisheries industry contributes an estimated PGK 350-400 million annually to the country’s economy [2].

PNG is home to the world’s third largest intact tropical rainforest, and the fifth largest tropical forest [1], with primary rainforests covering around 75% of the country’s area [2]. The lowland rainforest is floristically rich, especially of tree species with 80 genera and upwards of 2000 species [3]. However, between 1990 and 2002, forest cover decreased by almost 1.41%, with 362,400 ha of forest lost to deforestation and forest degradation annually [2].

Unfortunately, PNG’s unique biodiversity has been continuously under threat. According to the IUCN Red List (2018), there are 4,315 species of animals in Papua New Guinea listed under various Threat categories from the low-ranking Least Concern (LC) to higher ranks of Extinction (EX). The Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (E) and Vulnerable (VU) account for 341 species, of which 275 are listed as Vulnerable, 47 as Endangered and 19 Critically Endangered. Mammals comprise about half the assemblage of Endangered and Critically Endangered animals. Because many of them are relatively large, they are important sources of bush meat and threatened with over-hunting in many areas [2].


Current threats to biodiversity in Papua New Guinea stem from various anthropogenic activities, associated with the country’s rapidly growing rural population. The main threats to PNG’s biodiversity are habitat loss through industrial logging, subsistence cultivation, commercial agriculture, mining, overexploitation, introduction of non-native species and climate change [2].

Land use and land use change appears to be the major driver of biodiversity loss in Papua New Guinea and industrial logging has been identified as the main driver of deforestation and forest degradation. Subsistence agriculture ranks as the second biggest threat to forest degradation and deforestation in the country [2].


Key policies and governance approach

The mandate for the protection and conservation of biodiversity is vested in the Conservation Environment Protection Authority (CEPA) and the responsibility for the management of natural resources is shared among state agencies. Overall, the Environment Act 2000, the CEPA Act 2014 and the PNG Protected Areas Policy (2014) provide the necessary framework for the management and conservation of biodiversity in Papua New Guinea [2].

The Protected Areas Policy is built on five pillars which provide the framework for the establishment of the network of terrestrial and marine protected areas in the country: (i) Protected area, governance and management; (ii) Sustainable livelihoods for communities; (iii) Effective and adaptive biodiversity management; (iv) Managing the Protected area network; and (v) Sustainable and equitable financing for protected areas [2]. There are 59 Protected Areas established throughout the country and some are ongoing projects including the Coral Triangle Initiative and the Access Benefit Sharing of Utilization of Genetic Resources. Additionally, CEPA has prepared a Protected Area Bill [5] and developed the Protected Areas Investment Plan (2018 - 2028) which implements three pilot Protected Areas, namely the Sepik Wetlands in East Sepik Province, Mt Wilhelm National Park in Simbu Province, and Kimbe Bay in West New Britain Province [1].

The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) 2019-2024 is Papua New Guinea’s roadmap to conserve its rich biodiversity. It serves as a guide in achieving the country’s development agenda and is closely linked to Papua New Guinea’s Development Strategic Plan (2010-2050) and the Vision 2050. The plan’s aims include: (i) Sustainable development measures developed in all sectors to increase resilience to the impacts of climate change and environmental changes; (ii) Improve understanding on environmental sustainability and climate change with educational awareness on values of biodiversity, and economic opportunities such as carbon trade, payment for ecosystem services, and ecotourism; (iii) Conserve and wisely use our natural resources and environment, language and cultural identity for the collective benefit of the present and future generations; (iv) Effective participation and cooperation with national and international community on environment and climate change agendas; (v) Realization, enhancement and establishment of mechanisms for fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources [2].



The implementation of PNG’s 2007 NBSAP was hindered by a lack of coordination among relevant government agencies and local residents, and the lack of proper funding and capacity of government agencies [6]. The 2019-2024 NBSAP faces the same challenges. PNG has a well-defined legal, policy and institutional framework to address biodiversity conservation but greater interagency coordination and mainstreaming are required to progress PNG’s sustainability agenda as well as to fulfil its international obligations [2].

The 2007 NBSAP, therefore, holds many important lessons for PNG. It highlighted the importance of strong government and stakeholder ownership, the need for increased government engagement in project governance and oversight, and the importance of resource allocation and capacity building of personnel engaged in biodiversity projects [2].

Government funding in support of PNG’s environment and conservation sector has been limited, and many projects have been funded through donor support [1]. The importance of increased government funding support for implementing national biodiversity actions cannot be overemphasized. However, there is also a need to harness external funding to support a long-term sustainable mechanism for the NBSAP [2].

In terms of biodiversity conservation, PNG’s protected area network remains small by global standards [2]. As of 2020, 59 protected areas had been formally registered by CEPA, an improvement on the 57 protected areas registered in 2017 [5]

The 57 protected areas in 2017 were analysed in terms of management effectiveness, in an assessment prepared by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). The 2017 assessment concluded that management of PNG’s protected areas “has remained patchy and problematic.” Overall, the report found that the management of protected areas has not benefited from systemic improvements of on-the-ground delivery since 2006, when a similar study was conducted. The report found little to no progress in the management effectiveness for 65% of protected areas; some progress, high concern for 24%; good progress, some concern for 5%; and very good progress for only 5% of the country’s protected areas. The main weakness in the management of protected areas was identified as the lack of a protected area management agency or organization. Additional weaknesses identified by the assessment included the lack of paid protected area staff, equipment, support, infrastructure, planning, law enforcement and patrolling, community awareness and education, resource management activities, and visitor management [5]


Initiatives and Development Plans

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) continues to advance the protection of Papua New Guinea’s rich biodiversity with $466,983.00 in new grants. These funds will reduce threats to biodiversity, strengthen traditional landowners’ rights, and promote women’s economic empowerment. Activities will be implemented in the Bismarck Forest Corridor, which includes the provinces of Eastern Highlands, Jiwaka, Madang, Morobe and Simbu. Grant recipients include the Centre for Environmental Law and Community Rights Inc. (CELCOR) and Outspan PNG Ltd.

In January 2020, the U.S. government also launched the five-year, $22 million USAID Lukautim Graun project to reduce threats to Papua New Guinea’s rich biodiversity with a focus on customary lands and waters in exceptional biodiversity areas. The project is designed to equip and empower women entrepreneurs with the skills to run their own businesses, particularly in natural resource-based industries [7].

PNG will, for the first time, conduct a national assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services generated by the natural environment, identifying links to economic activities as well as economic values. The findings will shape important investment and other decisions around the economy and the environment in a country where people largely depend on jobs that depend on nature – such as in forestry, agriculture, tourism and fisheries [4].

Work is also currently underway by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), together with CEPA, under a Global Environment Facility (GEF) project to develop a sustainable finance mechanism for the protected area network in PNG, specifically through a Biodiversity Trust Fund. It will assist communities to access funds to manage protected areas, improve their livelihoods, and build capacity [5]


Traditional practices of environmental management need to be integrated into modern management plans, and supported by, a strong legislative framework, funding mechanisms, monitoring and law enforcement, research, collaboration, capacity building and political will to promote environmental protection for the overall success of environmental sustainability.