New Ireland Seascape, Papua New Guinea

Underwater Plant Photo
This marine animal exhibits just some of the outstanding biodiversity found in the New Ireland Seascape off Papua New Guinea.
©Caleb McClennen

Part of Asia’s renowned Coral Triangle—the epicenter of marine biodiversity—the New Ireland Seascape is located on the northern arc of the Bismarck Sea. Its fascinating marine wildlife ranges from tiny pygmy seahorses to huge oceanic sharks. With one of the highest levels of fish and coral diversity in Papua New Guinea (PNG), it is a high priority for marine conservation in the Pacific Ocean.

In the New Ireland seascape, as across all of PNG, individual landowners, clans, and villages determine how and by whom the marine resources and waters are used. This traditional, customary ownership gets passed down through generations, and is recognized in the country’s constitution and national laws. It offers a unique opportunity for local communities to take responsibility for the management of the natural resources that they depend on for food and income.

Fast Facts

  • WCS conducted PNG’s first intensive marine training session, developing the professional skills of more than 100 young marine scientists.
  • Three community-based reserves recently established in the New Ireland Seascape are successfully managing its coral reefs.
  • The people of PNG have a long history of temporarily closing areas to fishing to allow stocks to replenish, such as before a feast.


The traditional management systems that helped safeguard New Ireland’s reefs for hundreds of years have weakened in the face of modern challenges. Growing human populations and pressures to export wild-caught fish for the Asian market are placing increasing and unsustainable demands on the New Ireland Seascape. The harvesting of coral to produce betel nut, which is consumed by people across PNG, also poses a serious threat. Additionally, the rise in sea temperatures brought on by climate change is having profound affects on reefs throughout the Coral Triangle. During prolonged periods of surface warming, many coral species discharge the algae that live within their tissues—the same organisms that give them their stunning colors—and bleach. This leaves the reefs white and sickly. The challenges facing conservation in PNG are compounded by a lack of technical training in marine science and management throughout the country.

WCS Responds

WCS has developed a successful approach to meeting the challenges presented by conservation in PNG. Because the country’s land and near-shore waters are under customary ownership, traditional protected area models cannot be applied here. Conservationists instead work in close partnership with the local communities who own the reefs and waters.

In the New Ireland Seascape, WCS helped establish a series of community no-take marine reserves complemented by local monitoring programs. Called “tambu reefs,” these small no-take areas contribute to protecting biodiversity and livelihoods across a broad swath of the seascape. WCS also provides support and ecological and socio-economic research to the community institutions charged with managing the seascape.

WCS is working hard to build the next generation of conservation leaders in PNG, and led the country’s first intensive marine training course. The month-long course covers field survey techniques, fish and coral identification, data collection and analysis, and report preparation. Many high-level students from the University of Papua New Guinea attend, the most promising of which are invited to intern as field assistants and junior staff scientists at WCS’s New Ireland Seascape base in Kavieng.

From the Newsroom

A Map for Reef ReliefAugust 12, 2011

WCS marine scientists provide a color code for coral conservation by mapping out the stress loads of the world's reefs.

New Hope for Coral TriangleMay 18, 2009

WCS applauds the launching of the Coral Triangle Initiative at a summit in Indonesia. The leaders of six nations will work together to save this marine biodiversity jewel.

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