Fifty-two clans on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG), recently renewed conservation agreements to protect 43,000 Hectares of their forested land areas.

The renewal of these conservation agreements, that were first initiated in 2014 with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), represent an ongoing commitment by local communities to conserve two-thirds of the Great Central Forest on Manus Island for their long-term livelihood sustenance.

Located north of the island of New Guinea, Manus Island has experienced substantial and ongoing forest loss because of commercial logging and forest clearance from subsistence agriculture cultivation. The Great Central Forest of Manus holds the only remaining significant track of the original primary rainforest on the island. This forest is officially noted as a globally important Key Biodiversity Area and has been designated as a priority area for conservation by the Government of Papua New Guinea. This forest area is home to many species found nowhere else, such as the Admiralty cuscus, Manus green tree snail, the bumble gecko, as well as a new species of giant rat first described in 2016.

In late 2018, after six months of community consultations, 52 clans renewed their commitments to conservation by signing conservation agreements with WCS to protect 43,000 hectares of the communities’ forested lands.  The agreements cover nine communities from both the north and the south coasts of the island across two local-level government areas.

“We need to make the best use of what nature provides,” said Felix Chanoan, one of the clan leaders that signed conservation agreements. “With ongoing mining exploration and logging operation in the area, we need to make sure our forest is protected over the long term” he said during a signing ceremony that was witnessed by local and provincial government representatives, WCS staff and leaders from the nine communities.

“This initiative is also helping us to achieve one of the objectives of the Manus Integrated Development Plan 2018-2022,” says Oka Nungu, Provincial Administrator for Manus, “which is to increase the number of conservation sites in Manus Province.”

Dr. Ambroise Brenier, WCS PNG Country Director, notes that the conservation agreements have proven a useful tool to assist landowners to safeguard their forests so they can benefit from the environmental services including enhancing their resilience to climate change and climate induced disasters. He explains, “As a direct result of the creation of the conservation agreements in 2017 approximately 19,000 hectares of forest loss was averted when the Manus Provincial Forest Management Committee rejected an agroforestry project’s permit application for a planned rubber plantation development that would have cut through the heart of the Great Central Forest. At the time, the Committee recommended the exclusion of conserved forest areas from the planned development.”

“WCS applauds the Manus Island Indigenous communities for their renewed commitment to protect one of the world’s Key Biodiversity Areas”, says Dr. Stacy Jupiter, WCS Melanesia Regional Director. “Not only are the local people providing lasting protection to unique species found nowhere else on Earth, but they are ensuring a future where they will have access to invaluable forest services, such as clean water, which will become increasing challenging to secure under global climate change.”

The communities’ conservation initiatives are supported by the Australian Government in partnership with WCS, the Manus Provincial Government and the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority.