Indonesia: Preserving biodiversity for a prosperous Papua

Fardah Antara 11 Sep 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Agirway dancers of Papua performed the exquisite Ballads of Cendrawasih (Birds of Paradise) dance, marking the opening of an International Conference on Biodiversity, Eco-Tourism and Creative Economy (ICBE), and showcasing Papuas famed biodiversity.

Indonesias easternmost island of Papua is, in fact, often referred to as the last remaining fortress of the worlds biodiversity.

Held under the theme of "Biodiversity and Ecotourism, Papua Economic Solutions", a number of countries and international institutions participated in the conference held in Jayapura from September 7-10.

Discussions also revolved around the sub theme of "Utilize Natural Resources, Increase Livelihood, Protect the Golden Generation of Papua."

An exhibition featuring 60 stands, and screening of 20 short films on Papuas culture and environment marked the conference.

The gala opening ceremony was attended by Norwegian Ambassador to Indonesia Stig Traavik and diplomats from the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Papua New Guinea, among others.

Voicing high expectations, Papua Governor Lukas Enembe hoped the ICBE would boost the efforts to set up biodiversity parks and cultural parks to preserve the environment, particularly protect bird of Paradise, Papuas iconic bird.

Birds of Paradise, locally called birds of Cenderawasih, are the pride of Indonesia, particularly of Papua, whose forest is home to these birds, considered among the most beautiful in the world.

The birds of Paradise are endangered not just on account of poachers, but also because visitors seek dead and preserved ones as souvenirs.

The governor believed that preserving environment is crucial for the prosperity of Papua's indigenous people to help pull them out of backwardness and a life of poverty, ignorance and isolation.

Papuas range of biodiversity encompasses half of Indonesias mega biodiversity, particularly the endemic flora and fauna that are only found on this island.

The island, comprising West Papua and Papua Provinces, is home to some 250 tribes that retain ancient cultural traditions, and over 250 indigenous languages and dialects.

Home to the worlds remaining virgin tropical rainforests with vast biological diversity, the island is also endowed with endemic fauna such as possums, wallabies, tree-kangaroos, and endangered Long-beaked Echidna. It also has the worlds longest lizards and largest butterflies.

Its biodiversity includes 15 thousand to 20 thousand plant species (55 percent endemic), two thousand species of orchids, 602 species of birds (52 percent endemic), and 125 species of mammals (58 percent endemic), in addition to 223 species of reptiles and amphibians (35 percent endemic), 25 species of freshwater fish and 1,200 species of marine fish, as well as an estimated 150 thousand species of insects, according to the 2013 data of Papua Ecology.

Large parts of the equatorial glacier fields in the highlands remain substantially unexplored. Protected areas within Papua province include the Lorentz National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Wasur National Park, a RAMSAR wetland of international importance.

The Papua provincial administration hoped that events such as the ICBE will inspire Papua to realize a vision of prosperity, and enable it to pursue sustainable and high quality development programs.

The conference played an important role in propagating Papua as a region rich in natural resources, onshore and offshore, that must be developed in a sustainable fashion.

The governor underlined that with the support of the visionary people of Papua who have entrepreneurship skills in biodiversity, eco-tourism and creative economy, Papua and West Papua would be able to grow fast.

The provincial administration of Papua is observing 2016 as the year of investments, he recalled.

"Therefore, through this conference, I call upon all of us to work together, hand in hand, for the welfare of Papua," he exhorted.

The conference's recommendations will be crucial to Indonesias efforts to preserve its easternmost islands environment. The agreements reached during the meeting are also expected to support environmental preservation, not only in Papua or Indonesia but even globally.

Enembe remarked that the Norwegian ambassador, in cooperation with the United Nations, will assist in supervising the export of timber products from Papua to ensure these are not sourced from illegal logging activities, he noted.

In the field of tourism, Papua is particularly trying to lure tourists from Southeast Asian nations to visit the country's largest island. One of its tourist attractions is the Baliem Valley Cultural Festival that celebrates fertility and welfare of the tribal people.

The Baliem Valley is located in the central mountains of Papua. The valley, once dubbed as "Shangrila," is incredibly lush and fertile, with 2.5 thousand to three thousand meters high towering peaks surrounding it on all sides.

The Baliem Valley Festival, organized annually since 1989, is usually held in August.(*)

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