By Elaine Vaina
| November 10, 2014
A month long expedition undertaken by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to PNG’s remote northern most islands of Manus Province and Mussau Island in New Ireland Province has discovered many new species of plants, geckos, lizards and bats as well as surprisingly large populations of marine turtles, coconut crabs, and fruit bats.
The expedition which ended last week and consisted of a team of international and local scientists, also found the rare woolly bat on Manus Island, a species that has only been seen a handful of times in the past century. Pictured is a new species of forest dragon (Hypsilurus) found on Mussau which originally the team of scientists thought there were two species until they realised females were green and males were brown.
Dr Richard Cuthbert, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) PNG Country Director and expedition ornithologist, said that the new species discovered on Manus and Mussau are only part of the reason to celebrate. He said the Mussau Islanders strict Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) dietary prohibition had effectively made the island a sanctuary for many animals.
“Keeping Mussau’s pristine marine environment and remaining forest is vital for the whole region, as the island maybe a vital source population for marine turtles, coconut crabs and cave dwelling bats across much of Melanesia”, Dr Cuthbert said.
Surprisingly, Mussau Island, perhaps the least frequented of PNG’s larger islands is home to new species of frogs, bats, lizards and plants.
“Mussau had been logged most recently in the nineties, and our team did not hold high hopes of making discoveries. I’m happy to say we were proved wrong,” said the expedition leader, Nathan Whitmore.
Expedition botanist Arison Arihafa said that pockets of high conservation value forest had survived despite logging in the past.
These surveys were funded by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF) with the support of the national Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and the Manus and New Ireland Provincial Governments.