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Milne Bay Seascape (Pacific Jewels of Marine Biodiversity)

Date of Submission: 06/06/2006
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Department of Environment and Conservation
State, Province or Region:
Bramble Heaven, Conflict Group, Lunn Island, Jormard Island and Samarai Island
Ref.: 5063

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


Mixed Cultural/Natural Properties. 

This property is a mixed cultural and natural serial site comprising five (5) sites, largely uninhabited coral atolls and islands with numerous coral reefs system, which are currently earmarked as proposed marine protected areas targeted under the current Community Based Coastal and Marine Conservation Programme undertaken by Conservation International and the PNG Government and Samarai Island a PNG Government declared National Heritage Island.  The property cover range of latitudes depicting low-lying coral atolls and islands with variations in reef system and habitats as well as encompassing as International Shipping Route featuring many ship wreckages in Bramble Haven and Jormard Islands and Navigational Lighthouses to Samarai Island a colonial establish town in Papua.  The Conflict group of islands consists of a total number of 20 coral atolls islands. The 3 large islands include Irai, Panasesa Auriora and Panarakum Island. The Conflict group is an atoll of small coral cays with diversified ecosystems that is interconnected by the continental shelf that runs from Irai to Auriora Island. A 2000 rapid assessment program by Conservation International and Commonwealth of Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation revealed that the island of Irai was significantly diverse in the number of fish and coral species. The richness in biological diversity and the colonial history that the island has makes it both biologically and historically significant site that deserves recognition under the world heritage list.  The Bramble Haven group of islands consists of a total of 5 coral cay islands namely, Punawan, Dupere Islets, Siva, Panapwa Awanagamwana Islands. These islands are important habitat to marine fauna and flora. These island lies on a reef platform of approximate depth range of 2-25 meters. The southern part of these groups of islands is moderately exposed fringing/lagoon type reefs with gentle slope to deep water with sand and coral bommies in the shallow and coral ridges running horizontally across the slope. These islands house species that have been listed in the IUCN Redlist. Green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles often utilize these areas for nesting, mating and foraging. This area is commercially exploited at a very low level. Factors that contributes toward this include the location of these islands in relation to the exploited human settlement. Mode of transport by the local communities using motorized boats is also very limited. The (X) islands are significantly important as other sites in Milne Bay in biodiversity distribution. With vast reef area and the extensive Long/Krossman reefs provides for a countless number of other important species such like the Humphead maori Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) and the whale shark (Rhincodon typus). This area provides to be one of the last frontiers that is extensive and is cross-cultural. Lunn island is further located east of the main Conflict group of islands. Lunn Island is also records high number of turtle nesting every year. The most eastern side of Lunn is a complex of limestone and calcareous rubble which consists of narrow fringing, irregular reef sloping down to a depth of 15 meters (approx), then abrupt, nearly vertical drop-off to narrow bench at approximately 50-55 metres before dropping steeply into the abyss. The coral cover and species diversity is high due to a wide range of habitats. The shore area is not a nesting area as compared to the other sides of the island. The northwestern end to the Southern part of the island accommodates high nesting of green and hawksbill turtles. A survey by Conservation International revealed that Lunn Island recorded the highest turtle nesting per night compared to the other islands in the Conflict. The biodiversity extends to endangered species such as the Maori Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus).Jomard Island is a small coral cay island constructed on reef platforms, which have reached sea level during the Holocene. The island is fringed by a coral reef of significant size. The morphology of the fringing reef varies from site to site due to the different physical processes that take place on different parts of the island (e.g. wind and wave action). Without the current protection provided by the fringing reef, the physical processes evident will ultimately erode the island away. The fringing reef of Jomard Island also provides a significant habitat for marine species such as fish, crustaceans, corals, bivalves and other marine organisms. The marine life surrounding Jomard Island is extremely diverse in nature and has been identified as a sensitive habitat of environmental significance. The beaches at Jomard Island are made up of fine sands and coral rubble. Ground vegetation lines the upper limits of the beach providing beach stability and protection from eroding process, while the litteral zone (intertidal zone) is home to corals that have adapted to withstand intense ultraviolet radiation, desiccation and high salinities. The reefs surrounding Jomard provides very good shelter for foraging and mating activities for turtles. Furthermore, these diverse reef systems provides a lot to other animal species like fish, clam and sea cucumber who seek food, refuge and thrive in this healthy ecosystem.  The beaches of Jomard Island and its fringing reefs accommodate a number of globally endangered species like turtles and others. The terrestrial environment provides very good shelter for birds like pigeons, crows and sea eagles. Jomard Island has been identified to have the largest turtle-nesting rookery in the southern part of Milne Bay Province.   Samarai Island once known as the ‘Pearl of the Pacific' is a historic island in Milne Bay Province. The island, with land area 0.1208 square mile was the first administrative and commercial center for Papua Administration during the height of European expansion and colonialism in the Pacific.  The island is relatively smaller but still contains some of the buildings established during the colonial era including the Memorial Hall, District Commissioners resident, Old Steamship and Burns Philips buildings and the Government Wharf. Samarai Island has highly disturbed reef in front of the town jetty, wharf pilings and wreckage providing abundant shelter for variety of fishes, an unusual array of encrusting corals including the second only colony of Acanthastrea minuta ever recorded; mostly rubble bottom contains sparse coral growth; azooxanthellate (non reef) corals, primary Tubastrea, a visual spectacular.  The cold up welling areas within Samarai are known habitat in New Guinea for a rare Black velvet angelfish Chaetodontoplus melanosoma quite different from those found in Indonesia, Philippines and Japan. The Milne Bay population differs in having a pale head instead of a pale back as in fishes from other areas, which represent an enigma and may be a separate endemic species to Samarai.  Conflict Group, Bramble Haven, Jormad, and Lunn Islands during the traditional period and up to current period, are used extensively as important traditional pantry areas for nearby islands from Brooker, Panaeaty, Engineer Group, Ware and Misima who have traditional ties with each other due to presence of marine turtles and their eggs, giant clam species, fishes and marine products such as bechedemer and trochus shells.  Conflict group of islands including Lunn Island and possibly Bramble Heaven and Jormard Islands holds the key as some of the marine biodiversity hotspot in the province or within the Coral Triangle together with other sites surveyed in the province, as per the Conservation International Rapid Biodiversity Assessment conducted during 1997. In Conflict and Lunn Islands, where the Rapid Biodiversity Assessment was conducted during 1997, biological the reefs have extensive areas of coral coverage, very high species diversity with an average of 220 species of fish per site compared to the Great Barrier Reef and other species new to science. All of these reefs are in pristine environmental condition with no effect of destructive fishing practices such as dynamite fishing, cyanide as well as coral bleaching within the coral triangle.   The Conflict Group together with Bramble Haven, Lunn Island and Jormard Island are favourable Green, loggerhead and Hawksbill Turtles nesting and breeding sites, habitats for migratory marine and shore birds nesting sites, as well as for all giant clam species.

Protection and management. 

The Conflict Group of Islands is currently targeted under the Community Based Coastal and Marine Conservation Programme for the province as a Marine Protected Area (MPAs). The recent National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Alotau declares Samarai Island as a National Heritage Island and the Central Agency Coordination Committee (CACC) visit to the island pledging funding support to renovate the monumental colonial establishment on the island clearly support the cause of Samarai Island to be placed under the Tentative List of the World Heritage Site.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

In general, the integrity of these sites are that they are entirely and holistic atolls ecosystem containing all composite features of all low-lying atolls (perimeter reefs, passes, lagoons, patch reefs, beaches and islets) for most parts uninhabited, isolated form each other to some degrees and from large islands surrounded by open ocean. This provides sufficient size for ongoing functioning of the natural system. The marine environment reef system has very high biodiversity especially along the Conflict Group and Lunn Island, showing wide range of species with average 220 species per site demonstrated the system is intact including migratory species such as turtles and pelagic species.    In the case of Conflict Group, this site is recommended for protection under the Conservation International Rapid Biodiversity Assessment conducted during 1997 due to high rate of marine biodiversity.  The Lunn and Jormard Islands for example which also contain the large nesting sites for green turtles are currently being considered by authorities to be protected to preserve the marine turtle nesting sites.

Comparison with other similar properties

Milne Bay Province harbors one of the most environmentally pristine areas of coral reefs remaining in the Coral Triangle, biologically diverse, and Conflict Group, Lunn Island and other sites covered are no exception; contain many of the keystone species. During the 1997 Conservation International Rapid Biodiversity Assessment in Milne Bay rated many of the sites in the province including those in Conflict Group have very high biodiversity in comparison with similar size areas within the Indo-Pacific region.  In Milne Bay province most of the extensive coral reefs system and its biodiversity components are still undocumented which could also increase the number of coral reef species, reef and shore fish faunas and molluscs in the province exceeding other regions within the coral triangle. In Milne Bay Province along, there are possibility that in total, 420 coral species may occur in the region, which is higher than the Australian Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Property, Vanuatu with 296 species and possibly 410 species in Philippines covering Tubataha Reef Marine Park, World Heritage Property.   The islets within Conflict Group, Bramble Haven and Jormard also serve as a nesting sites for green and hawksbill turtles as well as other avifauna as such the Nicobar Pigeon restricted only to certain location within Jormard Islands.