West New Britain

West New Britain is the western extension of New Britain island and one of the 20 Provinces of Papua New Guinea. It is home to numerous volcanoes of which at least four, Mt Pago, Mt Ulawun, Mt Garbuna and Mt Langla, are still active. Associated geothermal activity produces hot springs and geysers. The centre of West New Britain Province is dominated by a steep mountain range (Whiteman Range) covered with very dense forest.

Talasea, on the Willaumez Peninsula, is a centre for the manufacture of shell money. Obsidian, volcanic glass used in the manufacture of knives, spears and arrows and used for trade from about 3,000BC until recent times, has also been found here. For more information about the geography and history of the Province, visit Tourism West New Britain.

Until the 1960’s most of the population in West New Britain lived a subsistence lifestyle, but with the advent of the government oil palm land settlement schemes in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s both the demographic and economic profiles of the area have changed significantly.

Migrants from other provinces make up approximately a third of the population in West New Britain, and population densities of around 130 persons/km² are not uncommon in the oil palm dominated coastal regions around Kimbe Bay.

Oil palm is by far the most important commodity crop and dominates the rural economy of the Bay. New Britain Palm Oil Limited (NBPOL) alone employs over 7,700 people and buys fruit from a further 7,000 small holders. Oil palm production has a significant effect both on terrestrial and marine resources and Mahonia Na Dari is actively in consultation with NBPOL over long term conservation strategies for the area. NPBOL has recently gained RSPO certification which means all its oil palm is produced sustainably under a rigorous set of standards and conditions. The well being of both the environment and the workforce stand to benefit from this initiative. http://www.nbpol.com.pg, http://www.rspo.org

The high number of migrants in the Kimbe Bay area and a growing reliance on a cash economy has meant traditional attitudes towards marine and terrestrial resources are changing. On land, forests may be logged in exchange for timber royalties, which if not managed properly can leave the community with severely degraded land and nothing in its place. Land is also being sold to migrants who are outside the tradition landowning groups and tensions and conflicts can follow.

To counter act this, a Papua New Guinean Non Government Organisation, FORCERT, (Forest Management and Product Certification Service), based at Walindi Nature Centre, is attempting innovative work to strengthen sustainable forest harvesting methods and community based forestry. FORCERT uses the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification as a management, marketing and networking tool. http://www.forcert.org.pg

Of equal importance is the presence of The Nature Conservancy in the Kimbe Bay area, which is also based at the Walindi Nature Centre. Their primary focus is implementing Marine Protected Areas within Kimbe Bay itself, although they also contribute to the wider debate on how to protect both terrestrial and marine resources while still respecting and involving local communities in their conservation and management.

Walindi Nature Centre is therefore ideally situated as a base for visiting scientists and researchers, and Mahonia Na Dari is a focal point for internationally funded and facilitated community based development programmes.

For more information about Mahonia’s research facilities, click here.