For outsiders, Papua New Guinea is one of the most mysterious countries in the world. It is home to a staggering number of languages and cultures. Shielded by virtually impenetrable rain forests, there remain people who have lived lives of almost complete isolation in remote valleys and forests in New Guinea’s central mountain ranges.
To this day, much of the highlands remain difficult to access by any other than the most dedicated explorers. Birds and animals also thrive in this isolation: a large number of Papua New Guinea’s mammals and birds cannot be found anywhere else in the world, while several others are restricted to Papua and Australia.
Even the underwater world of the Papuan islands seems otherworldly. The region straddles several tectonic plates edged by continental shelves with sudden drop-offs into the deep-sea abyss; coral reef-crowned volcanos erupt from the seas as emerald-green islands.
Papua New Guinea’s inaccessibility and seclusion are said to have kept marine and land environments closer to a paradisiacal state than elsewhere. Rainforests are more lush, reefs are healthier. A customary system of tenure (known as tambu) has been traditionally used by many communities to temporarily close fishing areas and allow them to recover, leading to sustainable fishing practices. This approach is, however, sadly on the decline, as modern day lifestyles no longer follow traditional practices. The remoteness and seclusion of the region has also meant that limited research has taken place, and there are many marine and coastal areas as yet unexplored and un-documented.