So Long Asia, Hello Pacific!

13 – 25 May 2009

Our first Pacific country in the Coral Triangle is Papua New Guinea (PNG). As soon as we stepped into the Air Niugini flight to PNG while in the Manila airport, we felt closer to the Pacific. We were homeward bound! We have four months to go till the end of our expedition!

Pardon my cut and paste abilities, but sometime 2005, I wrote a lengthy article about diving in Papua New Guinea. Here below was my introduction to this incredible country.

If you look for Papua New Guinea in the world map, you’ll see the west part of the Papuan mainland is the Indonesian West Papua.  Like West Papua, Papua New Guinea derived its name from its people, coiffed with frizzy hairs.  In the early 1500’s, Portuguese explorer Jorge de Meneses first named it ‘Ilhas dos Papuas’ or the Land of the Fuzzy-Haired People, papua derived from a Malay word describing the frizzy Melanesian hair.

Young Papuan boy in a dugout canoe out at sea

Young Papuan boy in a dugout canoe out at sea

Paddling closer to a dive liveaboard, Papuans in Witu Island barter and trade fruits and vegetables for rice, noodles and soap

Paddling closer to a dive liveaboard, Papuans in Witu Island barter and trade fruits and vegetables for rice, noodles and soap

It was later called ‘Nueva Guinea’ by a Spanish explorer because of the native’s resemblance to the Equatorial Guinea of Africa.   In the last century when colonizing was still en vogue, different countries claimed Papua New Guinea for their own – the Dutch, the Germans, the British and later on the Australians (inheriting administration from the British Empire), took control of the country after World War I.  Japan invaded the northern part of PNG in World War II which the Allied forces eventually won over.  After a significant move to regain autonomy in the 60’s, PNG was given full independence in 1975.

Located approximately 2° to 12° south of the equator, PNG is part of the largest non-continental island of the Pacific –  the second largest island in the world next to Greenland.  It is in the middle of a long chain of islands which form part of a complex ridge of torturous mountains stretching from the Asian mainland through Indonesia and into the South Pacific.  Mainland PNG covers 85% of the nation’s territory while the rest are made up of more than 600 islands.  The densely populated forests, forbidding mountainous terrain and spread out islands kept the local people isolated from each other resulting to more than 700 separate languages still spoken. Now ‘Pidgin’ English is the common language used by a country whose tribal cultures are as diverse as its flora and fauna.

Cradled along a fault line, PNG is geologically active with very rich land and sea environments.  It has one of the most physically diverse marine habitats on earth, spurring the evolution, accumulation and persistence of species with its richness.  The country sits within the Coral Triangle, an area marked by scientists as having the highest coral and tropical reef fish diversity in the world.  PNG has more than 400 species of reef building corals in its waters while the Caribbean, in contrast, hosts only 50.  The waters host more than 1,000 species of fish and more and more new species are being discovered every year.

Volcanic ridges and sea floor depressions between the islands have affected the depths of these waters. It is a country with a wide array of seascapes, from estuaries to lagoons, large islands, small islets, atolls, shoals, and sand cays, to barrier reefs, fringing reefs and beaches.  The currents flowing through the islands have influenced the migratory and dispersal patterns of fishes and other marine life and sculpting a landscape that has epitomized tropical paradise.

About the Author:

Stella was born in Manila, Philippines in 1965. She studied anthropology but ended up in advertising, producing radio and TV commercials for 7 years. After quitting advertising, she ventured into the freelance world in Manila producing video documentaries for a publishing house, government agencies, non govenmental organisations, and the academe. She moved on to producing books and had a stint at working with foreign production companies visiting Manila. Stella, now based in Cairns, produces photo stories with her husband Jürgen Freund.