Papua New Guinea (PNG) has some of the largest expanses of intact rain forests on the planet. However, these forests are being logged at an alarming and unsustainable rate. If nothing is done, by 2021 only 17% of commercially accessible forest will remain. As about 80% of the population relies heavily on forests and adjacent marine ecosystems for their subsistence, deforestation and the resulting runoff could lead to an environmental catastrophe and unprecedented cultural change.
Kamiali (Labablia) is located in the Morobe Province, on the Huon Coast of Papua New Guinea. It is accessible only by boat and therefore protected from squatters and others who make much of PNG untenable for long-term ecological research. The area has been formally protected but is under the control of local landowners. It includes a wide range of lowland and mid-montane rain forest, together with inshore marine areas including lush coral reefs, and has a rich array of plants, animals and ecosystems. The area is an important nesting site for the endangered leatherback turtle and is home to dozens of species found nowhere else in the world.
In 1998 a Dutch NGO collaborated with the Village Development Trust (Lae) to construct an ecotourism lodge at Kamiali. This facility provides accommodation and meals for visiting scientists and ecotourists. The future Kulindi research facility will be constructed about 100 m to the west and will provide a base for studies in the nearby lowland rain forest and adjacent coral reefs. It will be constructed to the highest possible sustainable building standards. Our preliminary design is for a 15 x 30 m solar-powered building, with a two-tiered roof for ventilation. While initial planning involved the construction of the facility from locally-sourced timber using a portable sawmill, such a building may be too susceptible to damage by termites, and other materials or a pre-fabricated may be used. The interior of the facility will be basic but operational - several rooms for offices and storage and a large commons area with laboratory benches for microscopes and analytical equipment, processing samples, writing up notes, etc.
In 1961, Bishop Museum established a montane field station near Wau township, about 50 km directly east of Kamiali, which became the Wau Ecology Institute (WEI) in 1971. It continues in operation as a local NGO, although it is now difficult to access because of deteriorating roads. WEI was instrumental in training a generation of PNG and overseas biologists who today are the leading scientists working in PNG.
Today, we are building on the direct relationship between economic incentive and environmental conservation by developing a biological field station at Kamiali. A properly equipped field station, in combination with properly managed tropical forest and coral reef ecosystems and their high regional biodiversity, will draw scientists to the region. Laboratory and accommodation fees paid by researchers will cover the station's operating costs and generate modest surplus revenue that will go into a trust fund managed by the landowners for use in development initiatives and to pay school fees for village children, and providing direct economic benefits for conservation efforts. This arrangement will ensure protection of the area in perpetuity. Local landowners have enthusiastically supported this effort by formally protecting (through government gazettal) 47,000 ha of rain forest and adjacent marine habitat. They have indicated interest in expanding the protected area to 300,000 ha, equivalent to 2.5 times the area of Okinawa. Constructing a field station at the site will open the area to a wide range of biological research, particularly long term ecological studies, and provide an important and urgently needed site for training PNG undergraduate and graduate students. The major objectives at Kamiali are to:
The Kamiali Biological Field Station addresses an acute need in PNG to sustainably use and not squander biological wealth - the forests and marine resources on which much of the population subsists. The project demonstrates that conservation can be accomplished at globally significant levels by working directly with landowning groups; it brings science to the people and international scientists into direct contact with local scientists, students and landowners as trainers and mentors; it demonstrates that a research station can operate at a remote site using sustainable technology; and it facilitates long-term ecological studies that focus on such globally important issues as climate change, amphibian declines, coral bleaching, and sustainable and cultural use of natural resources.