By JACKLYN SIRIAS
PAPUA New Guinea is one of the countries t located on the Coral Triangle, a region that is increasingly going to experience the problem of rubbish – especially plastic – clogging its reefs and marine system, says an expert.
The Coral Triangle is relatively unknown, which in itself is rather strange as it is one of the most important places on Earth.
According to Wikipedia, it covers an area of approximately 5.7 million square kilometres of land and sea, which is immense in both size and importance.
“The three corners of the triangle are made up of Indonesia in the west, the Solomon Islands in the east and the Philippine Islands in the north and PNG is situated in the middle of it,” says Wikipedia.
Unlike the Bermuda Triangle which is wellknown for the aircraft and ships that go missing there, many people do not know about the Coral Triangle, says the chief executive of NGO group Help PNG, Frank Butler.
The Coral Triangle “is so important because it is the most diverse body of water in the world that has more coral species that the rest of the oceans of the world put together”.
Butler says the triangle has the greatest diversity by species of fish than any other place on Earth as it is home to countless marine creatures found nowhere else on this planet.
“Since the Coral Triangle is a very special place, and because the country sits in the middle of it . . . with this great privilege comes huge responsibility.”
Butler says the responsibility is to look after it by controlling the rate of pollution, especially from plastic, that can affect the corals which are home to all species of fish and marine creatures.
As part of New Guinea, Papua New Guinea is one half of the second biggest island in the world. Historically, it has a relatively small population, many of whom live in the interior of the island with no direct access to the coast.
Butler says that most of these people are subsistence farmers, hunter-gatherers who have literally no impact on the coast and absolutely no impact on the region in general.
“If they felled a tree or two, planted a garden by hand, they would not use pesticides to kill bugs or herbicides to kill weeds, and so no chemical run-off to cause environmental pollution.
“When they use banana leaves or bamboo tubes to carry food and when they finish with the leaf or the tube, they would drop it and it would decay and join the food chain again as organic fertiliser.”
Life for them is simple and human impact is minimal. Butler has spent many years in PNG, having arrived here in April 1986.
“People living on the coast had simular lives as they would fish and gather food from the sea, have small gardens that grew bananas, taro and cassava; they used the coconut tree for many of their daily needs for drinking water, for oil, for building materials, for brooms and again when they had finished with these things they would rot and decay and re-enter the food chain as organic fertiliser and the circle was completed and life was in balance.
“The things that could kill you were many and varied so the population pretty much stayed the same over thousands of years.”
But things changed.
“People stopped just using stuff that they found around them and started inventing,” says Butler.
“Medicines were invented to combat diseases, chainsaws were developed to cut down trees, and mined the ground to get ore and minerals to make things to make our lives easier.
“They drilled the earth to get oil to power vehicles and boats and fly planes and worst of all, they invented plastic.”
Plastic was invented to protect our food and keep it fresh, to carry our food home. There are plastic disposable knives and forks, straws, cups and lids, in fact almost everything. But, there is a catch to these improvements. People have not been careful about how they dispose of these new inventions.
“That’s when things started going wrong in the Coral Triangle,” says Butler.
The careless disposal of plastic by people means that plastic is dumped in drains and roadsides and other places and rain washes it into the ocean which causes pollution and destroys corals and fish habitats.
After arriving in PNG in 1986, Butler set up Professional Diving Services at Walindi Plantation Resort in West New Britain.
“After two successful years there, I went to Rabaul in East New Britain to start my own business – Rabaul Dive Centre.” He says that during that time, he was instrumental in establishing the Papua New Guinea Divers’ Association which was responsible for liaising with government and establishing codes of conduct and environmental policy for reef and environmental protection in the country.
“As part of that organisation I was a leader in pioneering the Low Impact Mooring systems sponsored by Nature Conservancy to reduce anchor damage on frequently visited reefs.”
During his time in Rabaul, he worked with local and overseas-based NGOs and volunteer groups on study and exploration projects, and has been lucky enough to discover and name several dive sites of international standard in the country.
“I have facilitated many articles and commentaries of PNG and diving in PNG and hope to be able to use this experience to promote the environmental cause that I am now pursuing.”
His dive centre in Rabaul ceased operations in 1994 with the eruption of Matupit and Vulcan volcanoes and was relocated to Kimbe. He made a career change in 1999 when he moved to Lae to take over a near-abandoned cocoa and copra plantation.
In 2001, he did a round-the-world motorcycle trip that lasted eight years, travelling over 400,000 kilometres and visiting over 100 countries.
“After many more experiences and adventures, 2010 saw myself and the bike return to PNG where I spent the following year in Lae rebuilding and renovating my by now neglected investment properties.”
In 2011, he relocated to Phuket, Thailand, where he was in charge of a sea kayaking company called Two Sea Tour and helped it develop into a world-class operation.
In late 2016, Butler set up the PNG-based NGO group Help PNG, primarily as a way of giving back to the people and the country.
“The aim is to use my long and varied experience in this country to pin-point development and conservation needs, then motivate, coordinate and support relevant parties to see solutions through to completion in protecting, especially, our marine environment.
“Obviously with my history, marine conservation is of major interest to me and that is why I am committing my immediate future to matters concerning this cause.”
By JACKLYN SIRIAS