Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
colbartn.gif (4535 octets)

Coastal region and small island papers 10
Chapter 3

Effects of recent development projects on the environment of the Motu Koitabu

by Haraka G. Gaudi


The 1980s and 1990s have posed unprecedented social, economic, political and ecological changes globally and on the lives of individuals. While countries of the Western world have the technology and resources to absorb these drastic changes, other countries, like Papua New Guinea, struggle to come to terms with these changes, often by devising quick-fix remedies.

Among the most vulnerable groups in PNG are the coastal people of the seven Motu Koitabu villages residing in Port Moresby, the nation’s capital. The Motu Koitabu, numbering around 30,000 of the city’s 250,000 people, are the traditional owners of the land where the city of Port Moresby is situated. The city contains a cross-section of people from all the provinces in the country and the world over. The problems encountered by the local people are related to rapid urbanization and limited space. Current development projects, those in the pipeline and those planned, will have serious social and environmental impacts on the lives of the Motu Koitabu people. These projects include the Poreporena Freeway, the Kanudi Diesel Station, the Napa Napa Oil Refinery, the Motukea island development project and the proposed relocation of the Port Moresby port facilities.

Development projects: impacts and recommendation

Rubbish brought in by the tide, Hanuabada village

Recent development and urbanization projects have caused ecological and social problems for the people in the city and surrounding villages. Attempts by the government and other relevant authorities to solve these problems have been piecemeal. This paper attempts to present a comprehensive overview of the environmental degradation and recommends mitigation measures. (Additional background material relating to social profiles of three of the Motu Koitabu villages is included in Appendix 5.)

1. Depletion of mangroves

In past years, mangroves were used for house and fence construction; however, the villagers controlled their exploitation at a sustainable level. Terrestrial forest timber sources provided the bulk of the building materials, and mangroves were used only for the posts of houses built on stilts over the sea, as the mangrove wood withstands the sea and does not rot quickly. Smaller mangrove species were used as fencing for coastal food gardens. In recent times, barbed wire or 44 gallon petrol drums have been placed between the mangrove sticks to keep pigs and human trespassers away from the cassava and banana products in the gardens.

Firewood for sale near Baruni village

Depleted mangrove area near Baruni village

On 16 September 1975, PNG gained independence from Australia and people increasingly came into Port Moresby for a share of the wealth and opportunities that this new nation had to offer. The rapid urbanization during the 1970s and 1980s was unprecedented in PNG. Squatter settlements began emerging everywhere and the city administrators, as well as the national government, were faced with the difficult task of providing proper accommodation for the flood of migrants moving into Port Moresby City.

The Motu Koitabu used to use gum trees for firewood. When squatters moved onto their traditional land, the Motu Koitabu people felt threatened by the new migrants and were forced to look elsewhere for their firewood. Adding to their fears of the new arrivals were incidents of rape of local women in their food gardens or on their way to collect firewood. The general breakdown of law and order and the increase in crime in Port Moresby forced the people, particularly from Baruni village, to look to mangroves as an alternative source of firewood. The demand for firewood grew, as it was a cheaper energy source than electricity, and city residents began to go to the villages to buy firewood. As the demand increased, the villagers discovered that they could make a living selling mangroves as firewood. The end result was the depletion of the mangroves and a resulting imbalance in the marine food chain.

The consequences are severe and unprecedented. The over-cut areas around Baruni village and the bay within the Fairfax Harbour area are now mud patches. The marine life that once abounded is now completely depleted. Crustaceans as well as the spawning areas of fish have also disappeared, and the shoreline is now more vulnerable to coastal erosion.

Some villagers use mangrove patches as their toilets. They have become victims of their own actions in that the secluded areas that the mangroves used to provide are no longer there and they now have to go long distances to answer nature’s call. This, in itself, is an opportune time to introduce more hygienic methods of sewage disposal.

Migrants have brought other damaging practices to the mangroves, such as the use of spades and shovels to dig through mangrove burrows where mud crabs live. The wise practice used by the author’s late mother and her female colleagues was to use two sticks to entice the mud crabs to bite while poking the sticks into the mangrove burrows. Once located, the crabs were led out of the burrows. During low tides the women knew which burrows were occupied by looking for print marks on the mud. They only probed burrows with signs of life and left the others. Indiscriminate destruction of the mud crab’s habitat is another example of human negligence and lack of respect for the environment.

Mangroves are protected by legislation under the Forestry Act 1991 and the Conservation Areas Act. Considerable work and education is required to change people’s unwise practices and attitudes.

Another issue related to the depletion of mangroves is the felling of gum trees. While the Goilala squatters at Kade settlement and around the Baruni Dump area have contributed to the overcutting of gum trees on the hilltops and slopes, village people are also responsible. The commercialization of firewood has forced the squatters as well as some village people to fell entire live trees. In the past, village people used long bamboo poles with hooks at the end to identify, isolate and hook down dead limbs of live trees for firewood; whole trees were only felled if they were dead. Today’s unwise practices include debarking of live trees by uncaring individuals. One consequence of these unwise practices is soil erosion.


2. Baruni Dump

This dump area has contributed to increased social and environmental problems for the traditional landowners. The dump opened in the early 1970s and was one of the two locations for city garbage disposal. The other location, at Six Mile in the southeast of Port Moresby City, was closed permanently in 1997 because it had exceeded its carrying capacity. Upon the closure of the Six Mile Dump, squatters, mainly from the Goilala area in Central Province, moved to the Baruni Dump. With the new arrivals there was an increase in criminal activities. The relationship between the Motu Koitabu villagers and the settlers is currently at an all time low. Drunken brawls and fights are now common among the new settlers and the traditional landowners. The settlers scavenge on the garbage for their daily living. People are prone to disease since they either live in shacks or on the dirt under empty petrol drums.

The environmental problems posed by the dump are now emerging. In an incident in the late 1970s a number of young men from Hanuabada died from drinking poison found in a drum container in the dump. They mistook the poison for methylated spirits. There are many poisonous industrial liquid wastes that are dumped in the area, together with ordinary garbage from the city residents. The site does not comply with the Environmental Contaminants Acts 1978, nor is the dump assessed under the Environmental Planning Act 1978.

Air pollution from the dump is now quite visible. Villagers from Baruni complain about the smog that drifts from the dump area and hovers above the village and into Kanudi Valley. This problem will be worsened by the addition of emissions from the Kanudi Diesel Power Station, which may cause an increase in the number of respiratory and other diseases. The cancer rate in Baruni village is already very high. Many people, including the author’s mother, have died from cancer, although we cannot at this stage establish if these types of cancer are directly related to the emissions of the rubbish dump.

The Baruni Dump in 2000, now permanently 

Village youth showing garbage build-up in 

The incidence of birth defects, i.e. still-born babies, miscarriages and various forms of deformity, is already very high in Baruni village and Kade, and may be higher still near the Baruni Dump. The problems can be compared to those of the squatters residing around the Six Mile Dump, where the effects of years of exposure to the dump site are already evident. A systematic and quantitative study is needed to determine the health status of villagers and squatters in Baruni village and the dump area.

Another social consequence of the Baruni Dump is the marijuana or cannabis trade. PNG’s hybrid marijuana nicknamed ‘PNG gold’ has already hit the east and west coasts of the United States and is very strong compared to other forms of cannabis.

Sadly, there are now drug addicts in Baruni village as well as other Motu Koitabu villages. It is alleged that some dealers have infiltrated Badihagwa High School as well as the youth community of Hanuabada. These once very active and productive members of society are now little better than ‘vegetables’, with no notion of what is right or wrong.

The Baruni Dump, which at the time of the summit was under temporary closure, has now been permanently closed because it had far exceeded its carrying capacity. Cutting down and selling of gum trees is still a problem at the Baruni Dump; however, the serious problems of scavenging has ceased with the closure of the dump. A new site has been opened close to the old Six Mile Dump along the Magi Highway. The new site is on customary Motu Koitabu land belonging to the Korobosea people.


3. Garbage build-up

Another disturbing problem is the accumulation of general garbage on the shoreline, in the mangroves and under houses built on stilts. Added to this is the accumulation of raw sewage from the villages and city residents.

The villages of Pari, Vabukori, Hanuabada, Elevala, Tatana and the migrant Wanigela settlement at Koki are the main contributors of garbage and raw sewage, as their houses are built on stilts over the sea. It is not uncommon for children, in particular, to be seen swimming in a sea full of rubbish and human waste. This researcher has witnessed areas where one can stand knee deep in raw sewage that has accumulated on mud patches under the houses built over the sea. The most disturbing fact is that people still catch fish for human consumption under the houses. During low tide the smell from under the houses is unbearable. Since the houses are clustered together, ventilation is a problem and there is a constant threat to the general health of the people. The worst time of the year for the villages is between November and January when the winds are often calm.

People in Hanuabada are now complaining about the change in colour of the sea almost on a daily basis. This is the result of bacterial build-up from the daily deposition of raw sewage from the village. Tidal processes are insufficient to flush out the raw sewage, which settles on the sand and mud patches.

The Taurama area near Pari village is renowned for a famous folktale where a woman gave birth, in the mangroves, to five fishes (‘kidukidu’ or tuna). The woman would go to the mangroves every morning and bang two sticks together, which was a signal that it was feeding time. In the meantime her husband was getting impatient that he had not seen his wife’s baby. Following her one morning he saw what she was doing. He imitated her act and captured one of the fish, which he immediately killed. When the wife found out, she gathered her remaining children (fish) and told them to go out to sea and only to come in to spawn. According to folklore, from that day onwards the people of Pari village observed very strict rituals in order to catch tuna at Taurama.

According to a Professor of Medicine at UPNG, Isi Kevau of Pari village, the cutting down of mangroves as well as the accumulation of rubbish in the Taurama area has contributed to the disappearance of tuna, which used to appear at certain times of the year to spawn. The observance of the tuna rituals has now been lost forever.

The northern shoreline of Pari village is now clogged with rubbish build-up from the village itself, a result of years of continuous dumping of non-degradable wastes like plastic bags, tin cans, tyres and vehicle body parts. This area was once a natural flushing point where the current would carry rubbish out to sea.


Mr graham kicks off the campaign

300 turn up for beach clean-up

By Dorothy Bengo

Port Moresby: More than 300 people turned up at the Ela Beach ready to clean up their beaches in the capital on Saturday, for the launching of the annual coastal waters clean-up.
Families, members of the private and public sector and school children turned up to help clean up the city's shores with the help of the PNG Defence Force and the police.
Every year on the third Saturday of September hundreds of thousandsof volunteers from arond the world participate in beach clean-ups during the International Coastal Clean-up (ICC).
Minister for Planning and Implementation Moi Avei, on behalf of the Prime Minister, praised the initiative taken by the PNG Coastal Clean-up Campaign, headed by Jamie Maxtone-Graham. He asked business houses, who use plastic bags and profit from the plastic trade, what their support was towards this campaign? "The campaign will not succeed if lessons are not taught at home: and the best lesson is from parents. I thank the organisers of this campaign for a job well done, so it opens our eyes to see what we can do to clean our country before the next millennium." Mr Avei said.
PNG Coastal Clean-up Committee chairman Jamie Maxtone-Graham said the aim of the campaign is to develop community grass-roots support and involvement. "Our coastal environment is among our most precious, yet most abused resource. We must develop schemes that encourage and assist our coastal cummunities protect their environment, and that means better sewage and garbage disposal schemes, as well as environmentally friendly products." Mr Graham said.

Article from The National, 27 September 1999: ‘300 turn up for beach clean-up’

4. Damage to coral reefs at Hanuabada and other areas

Hanuabada, which in the local Motu language means ‘big village’, is divided into four different administrative sections according to the Motu Koitabu Council boundaries. For the purposes of the church, the village is divided into Poreporena Lahara, Poreporena Laurabada, and Elevala, and accounts for up to half of the Motu Koitabu population (around 15,000). The population is too large for the carrying capacity of the reef. Tramping or walking over the coral during low tide in search of fish and shellfish has damaged this fragile ecosystem.

This problem was further exacerbated by the construction of the Poreporena Freeway and the relocation of the Royal Papua Yacht Club. This resulted in the dumping of soil and rock and caused sedimentation stretching from the land near the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium.

Land has been further reclaimed near the village. The distance from the reclaimed land to the end of the village at Hohodae is only a few hundred metres. This land was expropriated by the national government for a K90 million cold storage facility project. This was a joint venture project between the NCDC, an Australian Townsville-based company, and Gidare Holding, a landowner company from the Tubumaga clan of Hanuabada. One of the conditions of this arrangement was to get landowners awarded legal title to the land.

‘The Cold Storage Facility will be a component of a multi-million kina harbour-side mariner and commercial complex, one of the biggest and most innovative developments in PNG in recent years. The complex is being developed by PNG-based Provex Pty Ltd, which deals in frozen foods. The complex would include a commercial cold store tuna export facility, warehouses, a ships chandlery, a supermarket, 38 town houses, a commercial bank, service stations, three high rise apartments, and a hotel’
(Post Courier, 4 April 1999, p. 20)

More information is required to determine the real benefits landowners will derive from the project. Present indications are that they will be minimal.

In the Fairfax Harbour area, and towards Baruni and Tatana, there is added pressure on the sea and surrounding mangrove and reef areas. At the Port Moresby Technical College, the sewage outlet is only a few metres from the shore. Nearby, Kanudi also has its sewage outlet flowing into the sea. People still fish in these areas and collect seashells for consumption.

Another threat to the area is over-exploitation of the marine resources. The city’s migrant population from settlements like Sabama, Horsecamp, Kaugere and Gabi, as well as persons from the Koitabu villages of Kilakila and Mahuru, come in great numbers during low tide and compete with local villagers for fish and other marine products.

Complaints have recently been levelled at the migrant populations for resorting to unconventional and ecologically unfriendly fishing practices, such as the use of poison roots (derris), which has led to indiscriminate killing of all species of marine life.

Another unwise practice is the depletion of various species of sea cucumbers in order to supply the lucrative Asian markets. When certain species are removed from the reefs, the ecosystem is changed and other species become defenceless. Harvesting sea cucumbers became widespread in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Species that once existed in great abundance since they were not consumed locally, are now extinct on the reefs around the harbour. Prices varied from K6 to K8 per kilo in the 1970s, while today people are more aware of the value of their products and some species can be sold at around K20 per kilo. This is still low considering restaurant prices in Hong Kong, Singapore and, in particular, Tokyo. The end result is that few species of sea cucumbers exist in the Fairfax Harbour area, and Motuans are now searching the outer reefs in shark-infested waters. Unfortunately, short-term monetary gains are seen as more rewarding than environmental conservation and personal safety.


5. Damaging fishing practices

Fishing competition,
Hanuabada village

Another very damaging and destructive fishing practice is the use of dynamite. Most of the reefs in Fairfax Harbour have been dynamited at one time or another. While it takes decades for corals and reefs to form, in one split second dynamiting can completely decimate a coral reef and associated species.

The Fisheries Act (1994) bans dynamiting of fish in the waters of PNG. This legislation was passed primarily to protect the marine environment and also to protect the lives of people. However, people deliberately and blatantly break this law. Tatana village is renowned for having the highest number of violators using dynamite and homemade bombs for fishing.

Dynamite can also cause loss of life and limbs. There have been a number of dynamite and bombrelated deaths among Tatana fishermen. However, the victims were alleged to have died from heart attacks or natural causes. Fearing that police might investigate the causes of death, villagers bury the deceased quickly to ensure that no-one informs the police about the incidents. The recent death of Tatana’s greatest fisherman, the late Veidiho Gaigo, was related to his use of dynamite. On his very last fishing trip, some informers from his own village told the police and surveillance was set up. After dynamiting fish near the shipwreck of Pruth, south of the Basilik Passage, and collecting his catch, Veidiho was allegedly ambushed at Lolorua Island. He died more than a week later.

A young man was also killed on New Year’s Eve 1996 while welcoming the New Year with homemade bombs. However, despite this and other tragedies, Tatana people continue to use dynamite. People from Roku village and Daugo’s Fisherman’s Island and others in the Central Province also use this fishing method.

The source of the dynamite is uncertain, possibly it is stolen or bought cheaply through deals with people involved in blasting work in and around Port Moresby as well as in the Central Province, and then smuggled into the villages.

Reefs are also destroyed by home-made bombs. The fishermen retrieve World War II bombs lying around Port Moresby and extract the gunpowder and inner elements to make their own bombs.

Foreign dealers in the sea cucumber trade have, over the years, befriended local fisherman, some of whom have been given dinghies and outboard motors, as well as SCUBA gear. A young man died in 1999 while SCUBA diving, because of negligence and ignorance about the need for diving safety techniques. In this tragic case, the young Tatana youth had just surfaced from the depths without decompression and died a most horrific and agonizing death. No investigation was conducted. Despite this diving death and a number of bomb-related deaths, the friendship between the foreign dealers and the local middlemen continues.


6. Disposal of city sewage

Sewage disposal for the city of Port Moresby became a major environmental concern in 1995 when, due to a power-shedding measure, raw sewage from the city could not be pumped into deep water. The problem was partly the result of uncontrolled waste disposal by the villagers and the migrant settlement of Koki and was compounded by the prolonged drought caused by the ‘El Nińo’ effect. The PNG Electricity Commission (ELCOM) started power shedding due to the receding water levels at Sirinumu Dam, located 30 miles away on the Sogeri Plateau above the city. Sirinumu Dam, built in the late 1960s, is the only source of water for the more than 250,000 city residents, and is also the source of hydroelectric power for the city.

The capacity of the dam is insufficient for the rapidly increasing city population, which is expanding at 3.5% per annum. City planners anticipate that the population will soar to around half a million by year 2020. Therefore the authorities need to look at alternative sources of water and electricity to supplement the over-stressed Sirinumu source.

As a consequence of this power-shedding exercise, it was impossible to pump the raw sewerage into the sea off Paga Point. This resulted in the sewage build-up in the Fairfax Harbour areas as well as along the surrounding coastline. As a precautionary measure the municipal authority, the NCDC, through its Health Division, posted warning signs on the popular Ela Beach waterfront and picnic area warning city residents not to swim, fish or collect sea shells for human consumption because of the bacterial build-up. Despite these warnings, local villagers, fishermen and city residents, especially from the migrant settlements, continued these actions. The problem was solved in late October 1998 with the installation of a larger, state-of-the art generator, which allowed for continued pumping of the raw sewage out to sea. It is not known at this stage if the sewage pumped out to sea can return to the shoreline.


7. Kanudi Diesel Power Station

Kanudi Diesel Power Station

To relieve the Rouna Power Station that uses water from the Sirinumu Dam for hydroelectricity, the government commissioned a Korean company to finance and operate a private diesel power station at Kanudi Valley behind Baruni village. The K100 million power station was to be built and operated by the Korean firm with the understanding that ELCOM would assume ownership once the Koreans recouped costs. The Consortium of Korea Heavy Industries and Construction Company Limited (HANJUNG) and the Daewoo Corporation (DAEWOO), known as the HANJUNG- DAEWOO Consortium, formed a joint venture company, Hanjung Power Ltd (HPL), and signed and executed a power purchase agreement with ELCOM on 13 July 1996, under a ‘build, own, operate and transfer’ scheme. The 24 mw Kanudi Power Plant was officially opened by the Honourable Rabbie Namaliu, former Minister for Mining and Petroleum, on 1 April 1999 (Post Courier, April 1999).

Unfortunately, the Uraranu clan group from Baruni who were the traditional land-owners of the 6-hectare block on which the power station now stands were ill-advised and sold their land and heritage to the government of PNG for a low price. In the process, they have lost their land forever. Various clans who own land around the power station are now claiming compensation from ELCOM for the use of their land for power pylons. Customary land was bulldozed to erect power pylons. It is also possible for the government to acquire land under the Compulsory Acquisitions Act.

The ecological effects of land clearing have yet to be assessed. When the power station was started up on a trial basis (15 November 1998), it became apparent that emissions will be a major environmental concern in the years to come. It is anticipated that when fully  operational, the Kanudi Diesel Power Station will relieve pressure on the Rouna Hydroelectric Power Station. Water thus saved will then be available for the ever-increasing city population.


• A quantitative study should be conducted to monitor the health of the residents of Kanudi Valley and Baruni, to determine the impacts of the emissions from the diesel power station. This may be the first project in PNG to contribute to causing acid rain. This study could be a joint research project by the staff and students of the chemistry and environmental science departments of the University of Papua New Guinea and the medical faculty at Taurama. ELCOM, the Department of Environment and Conservation, and the NCDC could assist with financing and overseeing of the project.

8. Dynamiting and land reclamation on Motukea Island

Motukea Island, located less than a one-minute dinghy ride from Tatana Island and less than three minutes from Baruni village, is a major ecological disaster. Plans for a private marina and a floating casino project were prepared in the early 1990s, after which an oil refinery was proposed. During that time, several persons from Tatana village made genuine ownership claims relating to Motukea Island.

However, Motukea Island had been awarded in 1989 to a landowner of mixed Australian and Tatana parentage through matrilineal heritage although, in Motu Koitabu society, land claims through patrilineal heritage carry more weight. This landowner then sold his title to an Australian shipyard developer. In some cases, these former landowners and their relatives are employed in very junior positions such as security personnel and general labourers at the Motukea shipyard site.

Motukea Island is now a flattened landmass. Maybe the spirits of the traditional landowners would not even recognise that this was once their land and heritage. Land has been reclaimed east and west of the original island so that it now measures 70 hectares and the area is still expanding. It is believed that landfill from the construction of the Poreporena Freeway was used to reclaim land on Motukea.

‘Papua New Guinea will soon have the largest shipyard facility for repairing and maintaining ships in the southern hemisphere once the construction of Motukea is completed’ (Post Courier, 19 April 1999, p. 4). Stage one of the facility, was completed by July 1999, and cost K40 million. The economic potential and job creation benefits are large, but so too are the environmental and social consequences.

Daro Avei, from Boera village in the Central Province north of Port Moresby, suspects that the dynamiting of Motukea contributed to the disappearance of the ororobu (giant mullet) in the Fairfax Harbour area. Daro and his forefathers knew the fishing grounds around Gemo Island where they would cast their nets overnight and catch this prized fish. Since the first dynamite blast, he and his people have never caught a single ororobu.

The reclaimed land extends over coral reefs and sea-grass beds, which were spawning grounds and habitat for a fish species known locally as beki. This species is usually harvested in great volume during the lowest tides of the year. This is the most accessible fish in the area and an important food source for the villagers. Fishing pressure is now increasing on the remaining sea-grass areas not yet directly affected by sedimentation.

The latest problem identified by the people as directly related to land reclamation is the build-up of waves and swells. The natural flow of the sea and currents has been altered significantly. Prior to land reclamation, the waves would break on the reefs, now the waves are hitting the reclaimed land. The currents have also changed, fishermen who cast their fishing nets claim that the nets twist and tangle in the strong currents. The volume of plastic caught in the nets is also increasing.

A new and unexplained phenomenon is the presence of sharks cruising along the sea wall at Baruni’s lower village during very high tides. Sharks have also been sighted under houses in Hanuabada village. Baruni fishermen using flashlights for night diving have also complained of being chased by huge snakes in the sea while diving on the reefs near Motukea. Women collecting crabs in the mangroves have also complained of sighting an unusually large number of sea snakes east of Motukea. It is believed that the dynamiting and excavation of Motukea have contributed to these bizarre events. Motukea was believed to be the natural habitat of these sea snakes until the excavation began.

The people of Baruni believe that the supernatural world has been violated. In the Koitabu belief system, the ‘Tabu’ or supernatural beings that own the land and reside in caves or hollow parts of huge trees can change into any living form and harass people for having trespassed in their dwellings.


9. Napa Napa Oil Refinery

The Napa Napa Oil Refinery was approved by the former Skate-Nali Government for the Motukea site. The American developers, Inter-Oil, had opted for a floating oil refinery utilizing refurbished or second-hand equipment from dismantled refineries elsewhere in the world. The use of refurbished equipment was contrary to the PNG Government’s policy on using only brand new state-of-the-art technology. However, on the basis of advice from the American developers, the government agreed to the use of refurbished equipment.

Furthermore, despite government policy regarding environmental and social impact studies, no independent study has been conducted. (There has been considerable debate on the ‘Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development’ forum on the need for clear and transparent environmental impact assessment procedures in PNG, see Appendix 4.)

In a public relations move, the developers, Inter-Oil, through the local newspaper, the Post Courier (Monday, 9 November 1998, p. 8), informed people in the villages near the project site that ‘the proposed refinery would not be dangerous to the environment.’ School children and the community would be involved in an environmentally friendly campaign. Trees and flowers would be planted and windbreaks erected to make it an attractive picnic area.

Another concern is the threat of an oil spill should an oil tanker run aground on one of the many reefs in the Fairfax Harbour area. Napa Napa, located on the other side of Fairfax Harbour, is closer to the Basilik Passage, which is the only inlet of sea current to the harbour and bay areas. A study commissioned by the Harbours Board (Port Authority) some years ago, using dye studies, confirmed that the Basilik Passage is the only inlet and outlet of sea current during high and low tides. In the event of an oil spill from the refinery, the whole harbour area stretching westwards to Porebada and Boera, and eastwards to Pari and Taurama would be susceptible to a major environmental disaster, which would be further compounded should the oil catch fire.

An oil spill was experienced in Gabi village of Hanuabada early in 1999 after a storage tank leaked at the nearby Shell Company depot. Oil spilled into the drainage system and spread under the houses built on stilts. It took the Shell Company several days to clean up the area; and the people from Gabi had first-hand experience of the potential dangers of an oil spill.

It is common practice for oil tankers to pump out the remaining oil residue after discharging their liquid cargoes in various ports and oil refineries. Once operational, crude oil will be shipped in from the neighbouring Gulf Province to the Napa Napa Oil Refinery. After discharging oil at the refinery, the possibility that tankers might pump out the residual oil before refilling in the Gulf Province could lead to oil being washed ashore.


10. Relocation of port facilities

Royal Papua Yacht Club and nearby land

After the completion of the Poreporena Freeway, problems arose that had been overlooked in the planning stages. Maintenance costs would be very high if the vehicles from the Port Moresby wharf used the freeway frequently; in addition, there would be congestion at the harbour front with warehouses being built, as well as the relocation of the Royal Papua Yacht Club. It was therefore suggested that to ease the pressure on the freeway, the main port facilities be moved elsewhere within the Fairfax Harbour area. The existing wharf could be used to accommodate tourist boats. At the end of October 1998, the Port Authority and PNG Harbours Board called for tenders for feasibility studies to identify alternative sites for the main industrial wharf.

It was announced that the wharf might be moved to Napa Napa. The current freeway will be extended behind Baruni village all the way around the bay to Napa Napa. Near Baruni the road will link up with Gerehu industrial area so that heavy vehicles can transport their cargoes from the new port facility without going onto the Poreporena Freeway. This is in line with the city development plan up to year 2005.

An earlier proposal identified the southern tip of Tatana Island as a natural deepwater area ideal for a wharf. If this proposal is revived, the immediate question is where to relocate Tatana villagers? There will be a lot of excavation work using dynamite like at Motukea. Land reclamation, necessary for the wharf and drydock areas, will completely change the southern part of Tatana village. The sedimentation and dynamiting will require the whole population of Tatana to be relocated. Funding for this will be the responsibility of the Harbours Board, the Government of Papua New Guinea and the developers. In August 1998, Tatana village rejoiced in the opening of their K250,000 modern church building. The question of relocation is complex since the villagers are sea-going people.

These and other questions need to be addressed before the various government authorities decide where the port facilities will be relocated. Since people’s livelihoods will be directly affected, it is only fair to make them aware of the proposed projects, the likely consequences as well as the choices to be made. It must be a collective act on the part of the villagers of Baruni and Tatana to make informed decisions instead of repeating the same mistakes of Motukea, where one individual signed away the entire heritage of future generations for personal gain.



This paper has identified the ecological and social problems experienced by the Motu Koitabu people, squatter settlers and various settlement people residing on Motu Koitabu land. The central issue in all the development projects relates to land ownership, and the participation of landowners in major development projects. As described in the accompanying box, land in PNG is closely related to culture and heritage, identity and uniqueness.

Village people are not well informed about what is happening to their immediate environment. The legitimate authorities should assist the local people to understand and address these problems. The Motu Koitabu people need to be consulted and awareness campaigns conducted to enable them to make informed decisions on developments that will ultimately have an impact on their lives. There needs to be firm commitment by everyone.

On one hand, the government is saying, ‘in any development project, environmental conservation and safety standards will be adhered to at all costs.’ On the other hand, the developers are saying that their projects are ‘environment-friendly’.

Careful long-term planning, together with a comprehensive analysis of issues and a proper consultative approach is needed to address these problems.

Conclusions and recommendations

Since the traditional landowners and the rest of the Motu Koitabu people have not benefited from the major development projects discussed in this paper, it is strongly recommended that a Motu Koitabu Development Authority, together with a local-level government, be set up as a matter of urgency. This organization should be similar to the other organizations established in the country by the government as vehicles for landowners to benefit economically from resource projects implemented within their areas.

The government’s revenue from major development projects in the NCD could help finance this authority. A trust fund should be created and used for business activities and investments. Social welfare services like health clinics, schools, and law and order in the Motu Koitabu villages could also be financed from these funds.

The authority could be run by a board of directors comprising prominent Motu Koitabu sons and daughters, with a well-equipped and permanent secretariat.


Cultural value of land: a personal view

Land to Papua New Guineans, and to many other native people of the world including the North American Indians and the Inuit (Eskimos), means our identity, culture, uniqueness and heritage. To us, the sea, air, birds, flowers, trees, fish and reefs all represent our cosmos and our universe. We refer to ‘mother earth’ as the provider. We are but temporary tenants who live off what she provides to sustain us. What remains is for future generations. We believe that everything on the surface of the land, in the sea and under the ground is ours.

By law in PNG, any mineral and petroleum resources six feet below the surface belongs to the State. This law was carried over from pre-independence times. In PNG, people have a hard time understanding this law because we believe that everything from where one stands down to the other side of planet earth (as we now know it) belongs to us. We believe therefore that our ‘birth right’ to land and sea cannot be simply replaced by a ‘legal right’ sold to foreign investors who are only interested in our trees, minerals, fish, etc., and not in listening to and empowering our people. As Bishop Leslie Boseto, a senior citizen and cleric, now turned politician (as foreign minister of the neighbouring Solomon Islands) said in his address to a theology conference in Suva, Fiji in 1994:

‘Resources in the Pacific are enough for everyone’s needs but not enough for everyone’s greed.’

Pacific resources in the land and sea are like a big Garden of Eden. Pacific trees, gold, copper, nickel etc. are our God-given blessing. Our Garden of Eden in the Pacific should not be spoiled by ‘apple’ (money) and ‘snake’ (greed).

Resource developers and investors do not share the same sentiments we have towards the land. Their interest is to exploit our resources in the shortest possible time and to move on. What will happen to the big holes they dig at the mine sites after the minerals are extracted? What of the rivers they pollute and the erosion caused by the mass felling of our trees? Who will represent our vulnerable, uneducated, powerless landowners and fight for their rightful entitlements in these economic ventures or stop developers destroying the environment – especially when politicians argue that we need the dollars to develop the country. So don’t stop progress!

Papua New Guinea is unique in that, despite our colonial heritage, 97% of the total land mass still belongs to the people (i.e. customary or traditional landowners); 85% of the total population of PNG (around 4.5 million) still reside in the rural areas. Only 3% of the land – urban towns and cities – belongs to the government where 15 % of the population resides. The disturbing fact here is that the urban dwellers (15%) enjoy most of the national wealth while the majority rural dwellers (85%) has access to little of the nation’s wealth.

Land is our identity in the sense that the land, e.g. from this riverbank to that mountain ridge down to that beach, belonged to my clan X. We would be identified as the group who own that piece of land. Our territorial boundary was known to others in adjoining land areas and that signified our cultural boundary and heritage. Because my ancestors were hunters and gatherers while their neighbours, the Motuans, were sea-going fishermen, my people were unique in their association with the land. Each group was given the land and sea to cultivate and to take care of, in the same way they were given their own lives. We therefore coexisted with the land, forests and the sea that provided our life’s sustainability and sustenance. Our land and sea are us, and we are them. This rather unique attachment to the land is almost religious and emotional – when our trees are cut down, big holes are dug up, and the rivers are polluted – we feel the same pain that our land feels.


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