The Final Frontier

Greentings Everyone! New Guinea, the final natural frontier is a largely unexplored ecological wonder of flora and fauna. Divided up between Papua New Guinea to the East and the Indonesian states of Papua and West Papua to the West, this heaven on earth is home to 13,500 species of plants, of which two-thirds are endemic to the island. Nestled between Australia to the South, Malaysia to the West and the vast expanse of the Pacific to the East, this island may very well be one of the least explored corners of our planet. The tropically lush, green rainforest stretches out as far as the eye can see and sits on the second largest island on the planet and making up the third largest rainforest, surrounded by the endless, deep blue waters of the Pacific, making it a one-stop shop for any avid naturalist. New Guinea has been on my radar lately due to its inaccessibility and remoteness. A place so far off the beaten track that the journey there takes you back to the 1600s, when explorers roamed the earth on wooden vessels, at the mercy of the winds, in search of exotic species unheard of back in their just as distant lands. Maybe it’s the excitement and adrenaline rush of leaving the comfort of your home, going into the unknown and unexpected, or it could just be that I am currently isolating on 32.9 Km2 of land, with a longing desire to travel and no date in site for this to happen.

Timber Heist

In the last minute, at least five New Guinean trees lost their life to a chainsaw, five other trees have found their way onto combustion-powered trucks and another five trees wait silently for their turn to board large metal vessels at Port Moresby to embark on the next leg of their journey. Unfortunately, for these trees, they show no sign of excitement in leaving the comfort of their home on this next adventure. According to the International Tropical Timber Organization, Papua New Guinea has recently surpassed Malaysia as the largest exporter of tropical timber, approximately 3.6 million m3, of which 87% had its final destination as China. These are very worrying statistics for a nation that holds 0.5% of the world’s area yet contains at least 5% of the world’s species.  The picture takes a turn for the worst when you consider that the WWF estimates that over 7 million m3 of timber is harvested illegally in Papua (Indonesian province) every year. Therefore, if Papua New Guinea exports 3.6 million m3 of legal timber per annum and there is over 7 million m3 smuggled out of Papua (Indonesian Province) per annum, you can start to paint a truly catastrophic picture of the ongoing situation! With greater exports, comes greater devastation to this pristine part of the planet, deforestation, habitat degradation and loss of biodiversity. The protected area within New Guinea, whether it be in Papua New Guinea or in the Indonesian states must be increased if we want to guarantee that these big green rainforests are around for future generations to come.

Tolerable Timber

Although cutting down trees is a big no-no in my book, there are techniques that should be used to minimize the destruction and devastation of clear-cutting large sways of rainforest. These methods fall under the umbrella term “Responsible Forest Management”. Methods such as selective cutting where individual trees are selected and cut, leaving the majority untouched to help with regeneration of the area. Strip cutting is another method where strips of trees are cut; leaving other strips every couple of meters intact as to help with seeding of newly cleared space. Shelter woodcutting, a method that removes the dead or less desirable trees whilst keeping the trees that will help in pollination intact. These are just a few of the methods that come to mind. Such techniques require that these areas go through a process of regeneration and regrowth, a process which can be achieved by leaving them untouched for 10 years. Other alternatives that do not revolve around cutting trees are reclaiming wood, better usage of wood waste or residue and using plants other than trees such as hemp, flax and bamboo. All these techniques are tolerable whilst we look towards even more sustainable ways to preserve our forests. The WWF has recently started to engage with logging companies on accreditation for responsible management of the rainforests, this is a step forward via the FORCERT and FSC certificates. Illegal logging however has widely gone unchecked. This should be criminalized by all national governments who are serious about preserving their countries natural wealth. Generation Clean!

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