Rainforest ecosystems in Papua New Guinea are benefiting from the work of “para-ecologists”, local data gatherers and support scientists enacting conservation and research.
Para-ecologists, described as “the paramedics of the rainforest”, conduct ecological surveys and work to conserve and restore rainforest areas. The UK government’s Darwin Initiative has funded an array of para-ecologist training programmes in Papua New Guinea, delivered by the University of Sussex.
Para-ecologist Joseph Kua said: “I am amazed with the current job I have. I can see that I am really contributing to educating local landowners about the importance of forest conservation. We carry out biodiversity surveying in the rainforest which is essential to make sure that the area will be protected. If we do not know what is there, then we can’t make sure it will be conserved for future generations.”
Papua New Guinea’s rainforests, which have one of the world’s highest rates of discovery of new species, house around 25,000 species of plants and a diverse range of wildlife, including up to 760 distinct species of birds which are unique to the region. The para-ecologist training projects have allowed local residents to participate in protecting the rainforest while learning about conservation and biodiversity in order to be able to teach other residents – as well as boosting employment in the area.
Dr Alan Stewart, Darwin Initiative project lead from the University of Sussex, said: “We use the name ‘para-ecologists’ as analogous to ‘paramedic’. These dedicated people are helping us to carry out vital research work on species of plants and animals, many only found in Papua New Guinea. It is heartening to see that our training programme has impacted local people’s lives to the extent that a large area of rainforest is being protected from destruction – by the very people who live there. Darwin Initiative support has been absolutely essential to establishing these projects and helping to change and shape people’s lives.”