Guardians Protect the Sea in Papua New Guinea


Kimbe Bay, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea

The challenge

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a country that is world renowned for high levels of biodiversity. The country is made up of twenty unique provinces, where five percent of the world’s species can be found in a wide range of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. However, due to increased anthropogenic and environmental pressures, the presence of these unique ecosystems are declining. With anthropogenic pressure, such as a rapidly growing population largely driving changes to the local environment, the challenge in PNG is educating local communities in order to help them better understand the impact of their actions and use marine and terrestrial resources in a sustainable manner.

MEEP students on way to Restorf Island field excursion sighting orcas. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

MEEP students on way to Restorf Island field excursion sighting orcas. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

Kimbe Bay, located in the West New Britain (WNB) province of PNG, is a large bay (140 km x 70 km in area) comprised of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses, and seamounts. Up until the 1960s, most of Kimbe Bay’s population was made up of traditional and indigenous groups who lived a subsistence lifestyle and engaged in cash cropping, e.g. cocoa and copra. In the late 1960’s Kimbe Bay witnessed the arrival of the palm oil industry which significantly altered the demographic and economic makeup of the area. Migrants from other PNG provinces arrived to the area as smallholder participants in the industry. Employment opportunities grew as the industry became successful and expanded. People born in other PNG provinces now make up a large percentage of the population of WNB. In addition, pressure from overfishing and some destructive fishing methods continues to be an area requiring continuous community awareness education in Kimbe Bay.

Actions taken

In an effort to help preserve the local environment, in 1997, The Nature Conservancy, the European Union Islands Regional Environmental Program, and Walindi Plantation Resort worked together to form a small NGO known as Mahonia Na Dari (MND), or Guardian of the Sea. Operating from the Walindi Nature Centre in Kimbe Bay, MND strives to understand and conserve the surrounding natural environments for present and future generations living in Kimbe Bay and PNG. Hoping to build environmental and reef stewardship within the local community, MND developed an education and outreach campaign which includes a Marine Environmental Education Program (MEEP), field excursions, and additional outreach activities.

MEEP students on field excursion to Restorf Island. Note fish identification guides. Photo @ Stefan Andrews

MEEP students on field excursion to Restorf Island. Note fish identification guides. Photo @ Stefan Andrews

There are currently four programs that target different age groups. In the Intensive MEEP, groups of twenty secondary school students spend nine to ten days in classroom and field sessions learning about reef biology, local environmental problems, and protection strategies. Students also get hands on experience with reef survey techniques and data collection. The Community Conservation Awareness Outreach Program conducted by the Community Conservation Officer visits schools and communities surrounding Kimbe Bay. Baby MEEP, for elementary school students, includes activities such as storytelling, reef walks, and drawing. And the five day Teachers MEEP ensures that critical knowledge is passed on to local Primary school educators. Due to the program’s effectiveness within the community, some activities have become an official part of school curriculum.

Madang Teacher’s College MEEP Training graduates. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

Madang Teacher’s College MEEP Training graduates. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

In hopes to expand their audience, MND encourages groups from anywhere in PNG or across the world to come to the Walindi Nature Centre for field excursions. While these excursions can take on many different forms depending on the requests made by the visiting group, they almost always include practical and hands on experiences with the surrounding coral reefs. By allowing diverse groups to stay and study at the Walindi Nature Centre, MND is disseminating knowledge to a global audience while simultaneously acquiring new knowledge from outsiders. MND works in close association with James Cook University (JCU) Townsville Australia. JCU is a world leader in marine biology research sciences. JCU has had a base at Mahonia Na Dari Research and Conservation Centre since its inception in 1997.

While the MEEP and field excursions serve as a strong foundation for building community stewardship, one of MND’s most popular activities is a puppet show that tours local villages and schools as part of the Outreach Program. MND developed a puppet show providing an entertaining and educational way of sharing information. In the play, two characters cause trouble by using destructive fishing techniques and learn about how simple actions can affect the entire reef ecosystem. Since its inception, the puppet show has helped to effectively spread messages of conservation and sustainable reef management practices throughout local communities. In addition, MND also produces marine conservation videos, booklets, and pamphlets and distributes them throughout the community.

Primary School visits around Kimbe Bay. Photo @Francis Gove/MND

Primary School visits around Kimbe Bay. Photo @ Francis Gove/MND

By involving a wide range of stakeholders, MND was instrumental in establishing one of the first community based marine reserves in PNG directly adjacent to the Walindi Nature Centre. Known as the Kilu LMMA, this area has become an epicenter for research in Kimbe Bay as annual concurrent studies have been conducted by JCU now for 21 years giving the longest collection of such data in an LMMA anywhere.

How successful has it been?

The efforts of MND now reach more than 13,000 individuals each year. The extensive education and outreach campaigns have helped to strengthen knowledge of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and built support for conservation in Kimbe Bay. Community members are able to gain an understanding of how their livelihood choices directly affect their surrounding ecosystems, while travelers from other parts of the world are able to learn about the conservation work of a small local NGO.

Lessons learned and recommendations

  • Small NGOs can be effective and powerful
  • Identifying gaps of knowledge in the community and targeting that group may be most effective in continuing to spread knowledge
  • Creative outreach and education activities helped increase the success of the program, for example, puppet shows provide an entertaining and educational way of sharing information
  • Persistent reassessment of the effectiveness of different strategies is necessary to continue to engage communities through time
  • Baseline surveys at the onset of implementing a marine protected or a locally managed marine area provide a reference for comparison to future conditions

Funding summary

Past and Current Donors
Packard Foundation
Canada Fund
New England Bio-labs Foundation
Australia Volunteer International
NZ Volunteer Services Abroad
Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
PADI Foundation
WNB Provincial Governor Sasindran Muthuvel
WNB Provincial Government
New Britain Palm Oil
The Ocean Foundation
RV Alucia
Hargy Oil Palm
UNDP – GEF – Small Grants Program
Democratic Governance Transition Phase (Australian Aid)
New England Aquarium Marine Conservation Fund
Roger Roth: Under Water Image
New Zealand High Commission: Head of Mission Fund (HOMF)
Pacific Development and Conservation Fund NZ
The Nature Conservancy
Walindi Nature Centre

Lead organizations

Mahonia Na Dari
The Nature Conservancy
Walindi Plantation Resort


Walindi Plantation Resort
James Cook University
New Britain Palm Oil Ltd
The Nature Conservancy
Live & Learn
WNB Provincial Administrations
Office of the Governor
Office of the Provincial Administrator
WNB Division of Education
Community Development
Schools within the Province Talasea LLG (Local Level Government)
Hoskins LLG
Bialla LLG
Council Ward Areas (Talasea & Hoskins and Bialla Districts)
Communities in Talasea & Hoskins and Bialla Districts


Video on Mahonia Na Dari

Video on Mahonia Na Dari Marine Conservation Centre in Kimbe

Video of Mahonia Na Dari school camp snorkeling trip

Dateline video on Kimbe Bay: Marine Research & Conservation, Papua New Guinea

NBC News video on Mahonia Na Dari’s Marine Environment Education Program

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