A National Marine Conservation Assessment for PNG

Public servants from CEPA consider different networks of marine protected areas. (Image by Carissa Klein)

Stakeholders consider different networks of marine protected areas. (Image by Carissa Klein)

The marine environment of Papua New Guinea (PNG) is vast and diverse. Marine ecosystems directly support the livelihoods of Papua New Guineans through fisheries and development activities, and tourism. They provide an ecological foundation for much of the national economy and prosperity. However, the country’s marine environment is under threat from a growing population dependent on the ocean for food and income, and from increased land-based activities and climate change. Now, more than ever, strategic approaches to marine conservation and management are critical.

PNG has committed to the establishment of a network of marine protected areas to fulfill its national and international commitments. At the request of the PNG’s Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (CEPA), and funded by UNDP, a national marine spatial prioritisation analysis of PNG’s marine environment was conducted in 2014 by CEED members Carissa Klein, Viv Tulloch and Jennifer McGowan (Figure 1). Marxan was used to identify key priority conservation areas using the principles of comprehensiveness, adequacy, representation and resilience (CARR). The analysis targeted marine biodiversity features for which national-scale data were available, and included coral reefs, deep water habitats, spawning aggregations, and migratory species such as turtles and seabirds.

This prioritisation was the culmination of a significant body of work to build the capacity of CEPA, underpinning national plans for marine conservation. The analyses compared representativeness targets of 10% (as required by the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD) and 20% (the target for the Coral Triangle Marine Protected Area System). The resultant maps identified areas of high conservation interest that should be prioritised by the PNG Government for further assessment.

Figure 1: Priority areas for marine reserves.

Figure 1: Priority areas for marine reserves.

We found only 12% of the 1106 features targeted in this analysis meet or exceed the CBD’s 10% representation target in the existing protected area system (meaning 88% of targeted features have less than 10% within protected areas). For example, only 2.2% of the total coral reef habitat of PNG is currently protected. Some habitat features, such as seamounts, are completely unprotected throughout national waters. Additional conservation areas are needed to meet targets particularly for deep water habitats and reefs, with significantly more area also needed to adequately protect spawning aggregations, turtles, seabirds and cetaceans.

CEED’s work with UNDP and CEPA is ongoing. Further efforts include: updating the priorities by integrating terrestrial and marine objectives nationally, and prioritisations at a regional scale for New Britain.

Given the increasing resource management challenges faced by developing nations, this project highlights the importance of accessible and transparent decision-making tools such as Marxan. The maps, data and frameworks generated through this project are being used by CEPA and the broader PNG Government to improve their environmental decision-making.


Agencies involved: CEED, CEPA, The Nature Conservancy, the Australian Government, UNDP, the PNG Department of Minerals and Geohazards, Coastal Fisheries Development Agency and the National Fisheries Authority.

CEED personnel involved: Viv Tulloch, Jen McGowan, Carissa Klein, Vanessa Adams.

More info: Vivitskaia Tulloch v.tulloch@uq.edu.au

Leave a Reply