Source: Post Courier
By ROSALYN ALBANIEL-EVARA
A BIODIVERSITY expedition which is progressing in Madang has shown the Madang Lagoon, once famous for its rich biodiversity to be adversely affected. The revelation was made by Senior Scientist of the Papua Niugini Biodiversity Expedition Professor Philippe Bouchet last week.
The expedition is being carried out in two different locations in the country. In Madang covering the Madang Lagoon and surrounding areas including Kananam all the way down south to Yabob and Bilbil while the Terrestrial expedition at Mt Wilhelm, in Simbu. Professor Bouchet said the expedition to be big as it had attracted a huge team of scientists from more than 20 countries.
He said many including him had learnt of the lagoon’s rich diversity through the years of research and documentation done by the Christensen Foundation adding that the team had arrived with a huge expectation of making many new finds. ”Lukewarm”. He said four weeks into the expedition and he and his team of scientists had found the diversity to be no longer as rich as it was 25 years ago.
“Many of us had heard about the Madang Lagoon and its diversity way before even making the expedition. Midway through the exercise and the sentiment among the scientists has been the same. That the Lagoon has become very degraded,” he said.
Professor Bouchet said he had made several trips prior to the team’s arrival to explain to the locals the purpose of the expedition first in September last year and early this year and January.
He said it was presenting the research to them that he had noticed the people to be very worried about the level of mining and logging activities and the environmental change.
The scientist stated that he had thought the level of the activities to be very small scale given size of the country and that the people had no reason to worry.
However he said the team had found that the lagoon had changed adding that one of the major causes to be the fact that the small rivers were now carrying a lot more soil into the sea especially during heavy rains.
“The water that is going into the sea is not clear but is very brown and this is largely due to the changes in land use including more plantations, logging, slash and burn agriculture etc. All these combined make the soil more prone to soil erosion today.
“There is more siltation going into the lagoon and this is what reef animals dislike the most.
“The beautiful castle which is the lagoon is buried in a lot of sediment and many species that should be there are not there,” he said.
An example of a fauna that the lagoon was once rich in but was now lacking in was the cowrie. He said there ought to be about 40 species in the area but that the shell specialist had only found about 15 of them.
He said they could be found but even if this did happen that they would be rare. Professor Bouchet said in terms of science and discovery, the expedition had not turned out the way that they had expected but that despite the disappointment of the team that the findings would prove important in terms of awareness on the status of this lagoon once dubbed the “Pearl of the Coral Triangle”.
He stressed that the purpose of the expedition had been purely about science and not to take sides on the issue of environment impact and development versus conservation.
This he said was something for the government, nongovernment organisations and other stakeholders and for them to decide on what to do with the team’s findings.
Professor Bouchet said the arrival of the scientists from the Christensen Foundation who had carried out the baseline survey boating the lagoons rich biodiversity 25 years ago would be crucial to PNG this week.
This he said was because they would be able to truly confirm whether the Lagoon had been degraded over the years or not.
“Our impression of the lagoon is that it has changed but the scientists from the Christiansen Foundation will be able to cofirm this,” he stated.