Podcast: Exploring New Guinea’s extraordinary natural and cultural richness

  • New Guinea is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. Making up less than 0.5% of the world’s landmass, it is estimated to contain as much as 10% of global biodiversity.
  • The dense mountainous region creates barriers to development and conservation alike, but has contributed to preserving 80% of the island’s forest cover which still remains intact.
  • However, experts are worried that extractive industries threaten not just its vast biodiversity but the human knowledge, culture, and livelihood of its original inhabitants, which represent more than 1,000 different languages across the island.
  • Mongabay Explores is an episodic podcast series exploring unique people, places, and stories from around the globe in-depth. You may be familiar with our previous seasons on “The Great Salamander Pandemic,” and “Sumatra.”

It’s difficult to overstate the enormity of biodiversity on the island of New Guinea. It contains over 13,000 endemic plant species (meaning these plants grow nowhere else in the world). Due in part to the unique cultural and linguistic diversity of the island (which contains the two most linguistically diverse nations on the planet) there remains a trove of human knowledge about these plants that scientists have yet to study and disseminate fully.

Perhaps most famously, New Guinea is home to 27 different species of birds-of-paradise, many of which are also exclusively unique to the island. Mongabay Explores is a special podcast series that dives deep into our world’s unique places and ecosystems. In this third season, we take a look at what makes New Guinea unlike any other place in this world, the contributing environmental impacts that threaten its culture and biodiversity, and what is being done to protect it.

Listen to this first installment in the New Guinea series of Mongabay Explores here:

We spoke with Rodrigo Cámara-Leret, of the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich, to understand just how biologically diverse New Guinea is, and the challenges it faces. We also spoke with Charlie Danny Heatubun, head of the research and development agency of the provincial government of West Papua about the recent Manokwari declaration initiated by his province to protect 70% of its forest cover.

Lastly, in Papua New Guinea, better known as PNG, the independent nation that comprises the eastern half of the island, Miriam Supuma of Synchronicity Earth joined the podcast to talk about what sets PNG apart from the Indonesian provinces of New Guinea, what customary lands mean to the nation, and NGO efforts to give Indigenous inhabitants the resources they need to protect their land.

New Guinea has a complex history. News about the island changes by the day, and for experts working in the field there is hope, but much work to be done.

The massive, flightless northern cassowary is one of the many birds for which New Guinea is known. Image by Rhett Butler for Mongabay.

Related reading:

New Guinea has the most plant species of any island

Study revealing New Guinea’s plant life ‘first step’ toward protection

Indigenous Papuans won their forest back from a palm oil firm, but still lack land title

Local leaders in Indonesia make forest and peatland protection pledge

West Papua revokes quarter of a million hectares of land from palm oil


Mike DiGirolamo is Mongabay’s audience engagement associate. Find him on Twitter @MikeDiGirolamo, Instagram or TikTok via @midigirolamo.

Banner image: Corals grow in the shallows around a small island in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. Image by Tane Sinclair-Taylor.

Podcast introduction and closing audio: soundscape recorded in the Adelbert Mountains in Papua New Guinea by the communities of Musiamunat, Yavera, and Iwarame in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Zuzana Burivalova/Sound Forest Lab.