Papua New Guinea is a mountainous, rainforest covered country located on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean. It is a country richly blessed with natural resources. This essay is based on my thoughts on the fourth national goal of Papua New Guinea which calls for wise use of natural resources and the environment for current and future generations.
Underground resource exploitation
In Papua New Guinea, underground resource exploitation is a major income resource and has dominated the economy since the 1970s. Unfortunately, these activities can cause widespread and diverse damage to the environment, including destruction to vegetation and wildlife around the mine areas.
An example is the Ramu nickel mine in Madang Province. The locals near the mining area have an ongoing battle with the mine management over the company dumping 100 million tonnes of mine waste into the Basamuk Bay over a period of 20 years. This will damage the marine ecosystem in the bay, reducing critical sources of food and income for the local people. In April, it was reported that several ships carrying Ramu mine processing plants spilled chemicals into the Basamuk Bay, causing bleaching to the coral reefs. It was also reported that people have been removed forcefully from their homes to make way for the mine. This also led to the destruction of sites that are culturally significant to the local people.
Environments around minesites cannot be easily restored to their original richness in diverse fauna, flora and animal life. Traditional medicine, plants for body paints, wild edible fruits, greens, roots and native animal habitat are destroyed for good. Destruction to river life and ocean life occurs when mine waste are dumped in them.
All underground resource exploitation causes environmental damage. Even though mining brings revenue into a country and creates job opportunities, it damages the land, river systems and oceans. People affected by mining lose food sources from the forest, rivers and sea through contamination from mine waste. The fish, animals and birds which feed in such habitats move away or die in large numbers. Therefore people who depend on food from the forest, rivers and seas are left with reduced vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, animals and birds to hunt, catch or collect for food.
After the life of the exploitation of mineral resources, the local people may be left with nothing but a mining ghost town, if they have not invested well their royalty benefits during the life of the mine. Our country must seriously consider the advantages and disadvantages of exploitation of its mineral resources and make a decision on whether it should allow the large scale exploitation of its mineral resources in future.
PNG is reported to have the largest area of rainforest left in the Asia- Pacific region. Forestry in Papua New Guinea contributes 4% of GDP and is dominated by Malaysian logging companies. However, between 70-90% of all timber exports derive from illegal logging – one of the highest rates in the world. In areas where illegal logging occurs, there is generally minimal monitoring of tree harvesting. In such cases, all kinds of trees are harvested whether they are mature or not, the right size or not, or the right type of wood or not. The loggers are also not generally concerned with the practice of reforestation. They harvest and leave, and do little or nothing to replant new native trees of the same species of trees that have been harvested.
This can lead to the loss of habitat of many animal and plant species. Native plant species will die out and animal species will move to other similar habitats which may be long distances away from the people’s villages. The migration of the animals and the death of plants will affect the people who depend so much on them for their survival. If the responsible authorities monitor the logging companies’ activities and demand reforestation through appropriate legislation, there may be enough trees left for future generations to use. Animals and birds will also remain in the forest for the people to hunt for food in future.
PNG’s seas are full of valuable marine resources and have the largest fisheries zone in the South Pacific, measuring 2.4 million to 3.1 million square kilometres. The fisheries sector in PNG contributes only 1% of the GDP but is extensive and ranges from inland fisheries, aquaculture, coastal beche-de-mer and reef fisheries, to the prawn trawl and large-scale tuna fisheries. However, having a large fisheries zone presents an enormous challenge for monitoring and controlling fishing vessels in PNG’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone).
In recent months, groups of people have been arrested for illegal fishing in PNG waters. The use of nets and dynamite fishing for commercial purposes can lead to overfishing especially when fishing activities are not monitored well by the responsible authorities. It is a common practice in some parts of PNG to use explosives to stun or kill marine life. Dynamite fishing is used to harvest large quantities of fish for commercial purposes. This is an illegal and very dangerous practice and it kills all marine life in areas that are dynamited. Meanwhile, in net fishing, nets are cast into the ocean/ rivers and are pulled along by boats trapping not only fish but other marine life as well. A lot of other marine life is killed during this process.
If large quantities of marine and freshwater stock are destroyed through regular use of these methods of fishing, there will be reduced or no marine life left for future generations. Unfortunately, traditional ways of sustainable fishing, such as restrictions on fishing at certain times of year to allow for regeneration marine life, is no longer observed and practiced by many PNG communities because of the influence of commercial fishing. To ensure that there is sufficient fish and marine food for future generations, communities in coastal areas have to revive traditional sustainable practices such as sea farming of fish, clams, seaweed and prawns and marine regeneration practices.
I have discussed three types of natural resources exploitation in Papua New Guinea. These are underground resource exploitation, logging and fishing. Here are some of my recommendations for sustainability of natural resources:
- The government should reinforce the Environment and Conservation act and ALLOW the people to challenge deals concerning the extraction of resources from their land;
- Appropriate authorities must regularly monitor all land and marine exploitation activities in the country to ensure environmental damage is minimal;
- Conduct awareness programs for the communities affected about the different types of exploitation of lands and their effects on their food and income resources.
-Stephanie Paraide, Grade 9, St. Joseph’s International Catholic College Port Moresby