The mighty Sepik River is home to some of Papua New Guinea’s rarest plants and animals. Threatened species such as the New Guinea Harpy Eagle, Victoria Crowned Pigeon and the Northern Cassowary are common to the region.
Important waterbird and crocodile populations are supported by the 1,500 lakes and other wetlands associated with the basin.
The diverse habitats of the basin are globally significant for biodiversity. The area contains two Global 200 eco-regions, three endemic bird areas and three centres of plant diversity.
The Upper Sepik River Basin, which covers an area of 7.7 million hectares, was listed by the Papua New Guinea on its ‘Tentative List’ for nominations for World Heritage Status in 2006. The following has been taken from the UNESCO World Hertiage Convention website.
WORLD HERITAGE SITE
The property is a mixed cultural and natural site covering the middle and upper reaches of the Sepik River basin including slopes of the Central Range and potentially the Torricelli and Prince Alexander mountains.
The Sepik River at 1126 km in length and covering an area of 7.7 million hectares is one of the world’s greatest river systems. It is the largest unpolluted freshwater system in Papua New Guinea and among the largest and most intact freshwater basins in the Asia Pacific.
The diverse habitats of the basin rate as globally significant on a number of biodiversity indices.
The area contains two Global 200 eco-regions, three endemic bird areas and three centres of plant diversity. Vegetation types, at altitudes from 0 to 3800 metres asl, include mangrove forest, herb swamps, tall lowland rainforest, cloud forest, and alpine heaths. The Telefomin region is said to contain the greatest marsupial diversity on the planet.
Threatened species such as the New Guinea Harpy Eagle, Victoria Crowned Pigeon and the Northern Cassowary remain common and a number of restricted range birds are represented. The Sepik river fish fauna reflects the Great Northern Fish province, sharing many species with the Ramu and Mamberano Rivers. Important waterbird and crocodile populations are supported by the 1500 lakes and other wetlands associated with the basin.
The Sepik River is one of the least developed areas in PNG and home to approximately 430,000 people who depend almost entirely on products from the rivers and forests for their livelihoods. This is perhaps the most linguistically and culturally diverse area in the planet with over 300 languages in an area the size of France.
The area is famed for the gabled spirit houses or “haus tambarans”, one of the most dramatic examples of indigenous Melanesian architecture, and a very rich ceremonial carving and music tradition. Sepik peoples maintain their cultural integrity proudly and have influenced styles across the nation.
One protected area is established in the area – the Hunstein Range Wildlife Management Area (220,000 ha).
Proposals for two adjacent WMAs totalling approx 48,000 ha have been submitted to the GoPNG in October 2005 and a number of further WMAs are being prepared.
Plans exist to include these PAs on the Ramsar list. The Sepik Wetlands Management Initiative is addressing crocodile habitat retention and invasive species removal across the Middle and Upper Sepik River and adjacent lakes. A catchment management programme, led by WWF with a range of stakeholders, aims to establish coherent management of this region.
STATEMENTS OF AUTHENTICITY AND/OR INTEGRITY
The Upper Sepik is the heart of one of the least modified landscapes in the Asia Pacific. A major river runs free without dams, weirs or industrial developments. A band of unbroken rainforest extends for hundreds of kilometres. There are few places left in earth in this condition.
A World Heritage listing would reinforce efforts to ensure that these values survive while also encouraging sustainable development for some poor and remote communities whose average income rarely exceed US$10.00 per person per annum.
There a few places in Melanesia where cultural heritage is as diverse, dramatically displayed or proudly protected. And yet change is coming rapidly to this region. World Heritage listing linked with an effective catchment management regime can offer a chance to draw tourism, support sustainable development and foster the celebration of the Sepik’s rich cultural heritage.
COMPARISON WITH OTHER SIMILAR PROPERTIES
No properties represent elements of the biodiversity or culture of the northern catchments of Papua New Guinea. Lorentz World Heritage Area protects some species that are shared with this region but there are significant differences in species composition, ecosystems, climate and geology.