Global recognition for grassroots action in Papua New Guinea

IUCN Oceania congratulates two conservation and climate change adaptation initiatives in Papua New Guinea – the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program and Tulele Peisa – that have been recognized as winners of the Equator Prize 2014.

As one of the key men charged with managing the natural phenomenon that is UNESCO World Heritage Site Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, his role is to ensure this little pocket of paradise is preserved so future generations can bask in its iridescent beauty.

The Equator Prize is awarded every two years to local and indigenous groups that demonstrate community-based, grassroots action to address environment, poverty and climate change challenges. It is organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Equator Initiative, of which IUCN is a partner.

The theme of the Equator Prize 2014 was local biodiversity and ecosystem-based solutions to climate change. Two Oceania initiatives, both in Papua New Guinea (PNG), were among the 35 winners announced this month.

The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) was recognised for its efforts to protect habitat for the Huon Tree Kangaroo (Dendrolagus matschiei) – listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Almost 80,000 ha of habitat for tree kangaroos and other endemic species have been protected in a community conservation area and locally-owned forest on the Huon Peninsula – the first of its kind in PNG.

This area also has the benefit of protecting the watershed for the community and providing the local population with sustainable livelihoods. The TKCP has also partnered with the private sector and government on a coffee harvesting project to contribute to local livelihoods and community services. The TKCP is the first time that the diverse collection of indigenous communities involved have come together to advance a shared conservation and sustainable livelihoods objective.

The voluntary relocation by the indigenous peoples of the Carteret Islands in response to the effects of climate change was also recognised. The people of the Carteret Islands were suffering increasing food shortages due to saltwater flooding from storm surges, and facing further rises in sea level. The Council of Elders decided to voluntarily relocate to Tinputz on the much larger island of Bougainville. This initiative became known as ‘Tulele Peisa’, which translates as ‘sailing the waves on our own’. The Council negotiated with the host communities on Bougainville to ensure adequate land, infrastructure and livelihood opportunities for the relocated people. Tulele Peisa offers a positive resettlement model for other atoll communities in the Pacific Islands region.

Two previous initiatives in PNG have been awarded the Equator Prize: Conservation Melanesia’s preservation of Collingwood Bay (2004), and the Sepik Wetlands Management Initiative (2006). Eight additional initiatives in Oceania have previously won the Equator Prize, including projects in Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

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