Papua New Guinea

In July 2011, a team of scientists from The Unites States and New Zealand went on an expedition to New Britain in Papua New Guinea. The objective was to undertake wildlife surveys of the Lake Hargy caldera that has been so far devoid of human influence and which has never been scientifically studied.

The team was lead by John Lane of Chico University in the States who has been to the area for the past couple of years doing geographic surveying. My role was to conduct bird surveys to ascertain what species might be in the area. Also on the expedition were Dylan van Winkel (herpetofaunal surveys), Don Miller (butterfly, moth, and spider sampling), Heidi Rogers (rainbow eucalypt surveying), Alan Rhoades and Emily Ramsey (spider and moth collection), and Matt Power (journalist).

We hiked for a day into the jungle and set up base camp next to Lake Hargy. From here we conducted surveys of the surrounding area for 4 weeks, setting up new camps as we went. We saw all manner of crazy animals and the pristine bush was unimaginable. We were assisted by 15 or so local “bois” and “meris” (boys and girls in the local Nakanai language). These were locals (mostly teenagers) from the Nakanai tribe of New Britain, whose land it was that we were investigating. They helped us build the camp out of wood and vines, build rafts out of inner tubes and, you guessed it, wood and vines! They also were invaluable in helping to carry in supplies and equipment (of which we had huge amounts). Their strength was amazing, they made a generator look like a box of air as they swung it over their shoulders. Needless to say they made the journey in a lot less time than we did!

New Britain’s pristine rainforest is threatened by the ever-advancing tide of palm oil. Much of the north coast of New Britain is now only palm oil; plantations so extensive that they look like a carpet from the air. New Britain has lost half of its rainforest since independence in 1975. A large part of the remaining forest is still unexplored, particularly in the vast Nakanai ranges which span the centre of the island. This is worrying as species may be gone before we even have time to know that they were there.

The purpose of our trip was to document the species living in the Lake Hargy area, and secondly to educate the local people of the importance of preserving their forest and not handing it over to be turned into palm oil. With no settlements nearby, this forest is one of the most untouched in the world  – no mean feat in today’s world. I hope you enjoy some of the photos from the trip.

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