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Trans-Fly Complex

Date of Submission: 06/06/2006
Criteria: (v)(vi)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Department of Environment and Conservation
State, Province or Region:
Western Province, PNG
Ref.: 5062

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Mixed Cultural/Natural Property

The property is a mixed cultural and natural site straddling the international border of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. This low-lying region of savannas, wetlands and monsoon forest habitats covers more than 10 million ha. The area is home to some of the largest and healthiest wetlands in the Asia-Pacific region. Combined with the Kakadu World heritage Site, it represents the only environment of its kind in Australasia. Millions of birds inhabit the floodplains of slow moving rivers, and the surrounding savannas and monsoon forests are unique to the Trans-Fly. The area is home to an endemic marsupial cat, flying possums and birds of paradise. Over 50% of New Guinea's total bird population is found in the ecoregion, including 80 species endemic to New Guinea. A complete range of largely intact vegetation types from coastal mangroves through savannas and tropical dry forests includes all representative types of monsoonal climate vegetation.   It is suggested that this site could potentially be a serial trans-boundary nomination with 1) the existing Kakadu World Heritage Site in Australia's Northern Territory with which shares many similar environmental conditions and 2) the adjacent savannas, wetlands and monsoon forests of the Indonesian side of the border in Papua Province. The cultural links across the border with Papua, Indonesia are significant - many groups share languages and cultural traditions and many sacred sites and ancestor routes are important to groups on both sides of the border. The biological links to Kakadu are also significant, as a large percentage of the biodiversity is shared between these two sites. However, the Trans-Fly includes many New Guinea endemic species not found in Kakadu.

Protection and Management 

The area comprises parts of three Global 200 ecoregions, an endemic bird area and a centre of plant diversity. Part of the area (590,000 ha) has already been designated as a Ramsar site and a site on the Shorebirds Reserve Network. The area also contains approximately 1,310,000ha of existing or currently being gazetted community managed protected areas. The site contains PNG's largest protected area - the 590,000ha Tonda Wildlife Management Area, which is a community managed protected area. The area is lightly populated, most people still living a traditional lifestyle of hunting, gathering and small scale shifting yam cultivation. In PNG most protected areas are managed by a committee of local landowners who decide upon the rules for management. WWF has worked with the Tonda WMA Committee to develop a set of rules that are based on threats to the reserve and have been conducting research into key ecological processes, key species and management concepts to assist the local people to manage the reserve.   On the northern edge of Tonda, contiguous with it, three new WMAs are being established with local landowning communities. The total area of these is approximately 720,000ha. The Trans-Fly protected areas are greater than all the rest of the protected areas in PNG put together. These new protected areas cover significant expanses of monsoon forests and some key wetlands in the south and middle Fly floodplains.   There is increasing demand for cash income amongst the communities of the Trans-Fly and there is evidence of some unsustainable wildlife harvest of certain species such as Saratoga - a species of fish that is traded over the border with Indonesia. WWF is working with Traffic and local landowners to develop management plans for key species of commercial value.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Trans-Fly cultures retain land use practices and traditions with an ancient lineage.  These are experiencing dramatic change particularly in areas close the border.  A World Heritage listing will assist to document, revitalise and promote a pride in these traditions.  Natural systems remain in remarkably good condition with only a few limited areas of human habitation and impacts. The area is remote and rarely visited by outsiders. There are no commercial flights into the area and very few bush tracks. Motorised vehicles are rare. Various studies have recommended that this area receive protection and assistance with management as a result of their findings, but more information is needed to inform management interventions. No major roads cross the region and the human population is sparse.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Trans-Fly can only be compared to similar large tropical wetlands in Africa and South America: the Okavango delta, the Pantanal and the Venezuelan-Colombian Llanos.  But the comparison must be weighed carefully, because the Trans-Fly is located in an island, is of very recent origin (Pleistocene), and thus for these reasons alone ecological theory predicts lower diversity.  Perhaps the most important aspect of the Trans-Fly is that it represents the only ecosystem of this kind in Australasia.    The Pantanal, a part of which was only recently nominated as World Heritage Site, is also of recent origin (also Pleistocene - previously a desert), but is affected by highly diverse ecosystems, such as the Amazon and Brazilian Atlantic Forests, the Chaco and the foothills of the Andes.  Not surprisingly, the diversity of mammals and birds in the Pantanal is higher than in the Trans-Fly (124 and 463 species in Pantanal, respectively, vs. about 70 and 360 in Trans-Fly).  However, the comparison is inappropriate.  First, while the Trans-Fly encompasses 1.3 million hectares, the Pantanal encompasses 16 million hectares; that is, an area about 12 times bigger than the Trans-Fly.  It is important to note that the connectivity of Pantanal to other ecosystems means that it contains fewer endemic species in absolute numbers and in percentages compared to the Trans-Fly. The Okavango delta in Botswana is also an important wetland, housing millions of migratory species that arrive seasonally in their migrations across the African continent and into Europe and Asia. This ecosystem is much older than the Trans-Fly, and is surrounded by large landmass areas of high diversity. Much like Pantanal, the Okavango delta has fewer endemic species in absolute numbers and percentages than the Trans-Fly.  The Llanos of Venezuela and Colombia are similarly seasonally flooded wetlands and a matrix of habitat types.  Their origin is recent, as the Orinoco and Magdalena rivers drifted eastwards with the raise of the Andean cordillera 5 million years ago. These are also an important ecosystem for several migratory species, especially wildfowl, and are adjacent to the region with the highest avian diversity in the world: the Andean foothills. The Llanos are usually not a major stopover site for migratory species from North America. Most species follow the Andes mountain ranges to South America, including the Pantanal and the Argentinean Pampas. Similar to Pantanal, the Llanos house species of wildlife typical of Amazonian forests, such as tapirs and anteaters, spider monkeys and many species of parrots.  Endemism is also very low.  The low endemism of the Pantanal, Okavango delta and the Llanos is an important metric of the uniqueness of the Trans-Fly. The endemism stems from two peculiarities of the Trans-Fly: it is found in an island and its geomorphology and origins are unique in Australasia.  Regionally, the Trans-Fly is very rich in bird fauna and no other site in the region compares to it, including Kakadu World Heritage Site.