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Twelve New Protected Areas Named In World's Third Largest Rainforest

The Papua New Guinea government today announced it will gazette twelve protected areas requested by local communities covering some of the most biologically diverse forests, wetlands and reefs on the planet at an event held in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. "This is the most significant expansion of PNGs protected area system this decade," said the PNG Minister for Environment, the Hon William Duma. "We are very proud of the efforts of landholding communities to protect their land and congratulate the non-government organisations and companies who have assisted them." Minister Duma received the proposals for the protected areas at a celebration with local partners and community representatives. The proposed protected areas are in Madang, Sepik River, Mount Bosavi (Southern Highlands and Western provinces), and the TransFly (Western Province). They will add a further 771,451 hectares to PNGs protected area system, increasing it by almost 50%. All of the protected areas are on land owned by customary communities. They are set up as "Wildlife Management Areas" with rules developed by the landowning villages and management by committees they appoint. WMAs promote sustainable use of wildlife and its habitats for subsistence and cash income, as well as strengthening land rights and cultural sites. Minister Duma said "We hope these proposed protected areas will help some of the country's least developed communities to improve their livelihoods. They are set up for many reasons, including increasing fish stocks, ensuring sustainable harvest of animals and forest products, clarifying land boundaries, drawing tourists, and protecting sacred areas." Minister Duma said "PNG currently has one of the lowest coverage of protected area of any country. Only 2.7% of PNGs land area and 0.07% of its territorial waters are included in protected areas. This announcement will help greatly in reaching our target of a representative protected areas system in PNG on land by 2010 and in the sea by 2012." Nominating communities were recognised by WWF with certificates of conservation leadership given by the WWF International Director General, James P Leape, who is visiting PNG for the Pacific Island Forum. "This is an important step in protecting one of the worlds great environmental treasures," said Leape. "PNG has the largest block of tropical rainforest in the Asia Pacific, the largest and healthiest wetlands in the region and some of the richest coral reefs on the planet. But these are under intense pressure from unsustainable logging and fishing. A global effort is needed to support the remarkable effort now underway to protect and manage PNGs environment and promote sustainable natural resource industries. WWF will be committing its resources to this and we call on governments and donors in the region and around the world to assist." The protected areas announced at this event will be gazetted for the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in March 2006 in Brazil. The PNG government has committed to including 10% of PNG land in protected areas by 2010. The 12 additions will bring the current total to around 4% of PNGs land area. The government is proposing a Protected Area Initiative with community organisations, landowners and donors to ensure that the 10% target is reached. The event was organised by the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation, with support from WWF PNG. It pays tribute to the work of organisations including Ambunti District Council of Women, Aquaventures Pty Ltd (dive operators), Bauabaua Theatre Company, HELP Resources, Kosua Orogo Resource Owners Association, New Guinea Binatang Research Centre, Oil Search Pty Ltd, PNG Forest Authority and Wetlands International. For more information, visit http://www.wwfpacific.org.fj