Humankind and Nature


Ailan Awareness

Lovongai Island Green Belt: Traditional Land and Sea Management By and For the 12 Clans, Papua New Guinea

Credit: Ailan Awareness | People's Planet Project

USD 25.000 grant
to create evidence-based storytelling 
that enhances traditional conservation practices,
proves land destruction by extractive industries,
preserves ancestral knowledge,
and supports land titling processes.

on this page, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of the significance of this grant. Here, you can learn about the community served by this project and the particular challenges they face. We also offer insights into Ailan Awareness, the Indigenous-led organization we proudly support, and a thorough account of the project they are undertaking.

The Community

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is a pacific island nation in Oceania that encompasses the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. More than three-quarters of the population live in rural areas, and depend on the natural world for their livelihoods. Papua New Guineans are fishers, farmers and hunters who have, for thousands of years, maintained social and ecological practices that have sustained their communities and their forests and reefs.

Papua New Guinea is the most multilingual country in the world, with 830 languages spoken among a small population of about 12 million. Almost everyone who lives in Papua New Guinea today is Indigenous. The current inhabitants of the country can trace their ancestors back to two major migrations that populated the region. The first migration was about 50,000 years ago and the second was about 3,500 years ago. This means that cultures in Papua New Guinea have deep and ancient ties to the land and the sea.

New Ireland Province

A north eastern collection of islands, situated right in the heart of the Coral Triangle, New Ireland is made up of four island groups and several large islands. New Ireland island is home to the province's capital, Kavieng.

Because the Indigenous people living in New Ireland have cared for these islands for generations, they are some of the most unspoiled and biologically diverse places in the world. Home to eighteen different language groups, New Ireland Province has a rich and thriving spiritual, expressive, and lingual culture.

With limited infrastructure and access to services and goods, residents of New Ireland depend almost entirely on natural resources from the ecosystems in which they live for sustenance and income. Accordingly, their lives are intimately intertwined with the forest and reefs surrounding their communities. In the past, the elders of communities across New Ireland province exercised the right to manage resources through a variety of traditional measures that demonstrate a profound local understanding of conservation practices.

Credit: Paige West

Lovongai Island (New Hanover)

A north eastern island located in the archipelago of the New Ireland Province, Lovongai Island is mountainous and volcanic, with much of its coastal fringes being uplifted sea-beds. A mountain range known as the Tirpitz or Lovongai Range stretches the entire length of the island, and a peninsula to the west known as Cape Mata-nalem is a low swampy limestone plateau caused by a raised sea-bed. The interior of the island is densely forested and it is ringed by sago swamps, mangrove swamps, and extraodinary coral reef systems.

Many short, swift flowing streams drain out onto the south coast from the Tirpitz Range and interior mountains, making the river and estuary systems link with the ocean in a way that has significance geographically, culturally, and spiritually for people living and subsisting from the island.

The people of Lovongai Island are socially grouped into 12 matrilineal clans, symbolised by bird totems known as Pat-mani. 
The languages spoken by the people of Lovongai are Tungag, English, and Tok Pisin, along with several others.

The Problem

Papua New Guinea, a relatively stable young country since gaining independence in 1975, has no settler population. As a result, national education and healthcare services are exclusively available to Indigenous people, as foreigners are prohibited from accessing these resources. The constitution of Papua New Guinea firmly upholds Indigenous rights, with all land ownership vested in Indigenous communities, which can be leased to outsiders, as exemplified in the case of Lovongai. Additionally, the national government is predominantly composed of Indigenous politicians. However, it's important to note that Papua New Guinea has not endorsed ILO Convention 169, and it has not successfully put into practice the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Papua New Guinea also faces challenges in ensuring safety and access to basic needs due to the prioritization of foreign industries over local communities. The nation has experienced deep and lasting effects from colonisation and from foreign extractive industries and has become an international mining hotspot for resources such as copper and gold as well as monoculture plantations for plants like coconut and palm. These industries are now the major export industries, however little - if any - of the profit reaches either the local government or local peoples.

Currently, local Indigenous resource management and traditional practices in New Ireland are being eradicated by national policies that prioritise extractive industries. However, communities across the province are pushing for Indigenous rights and land attainment to manage their marine and terrestrial resources.

In 2006, conflicts over land resources due to logging and other extractive industries sparked a civil war among the clans on Lovongai Island, with limited government intervention. Additionally, the coral reefs surrounding the island face threats from overfishing, destructive practices, industrialization, and climate change. These factors have led to a decline in reef health and fish stocks, which coastal communities rely heavily on for food and income. Not only has exploitation from population growth, international demand, and tourism further damaged the reefs and fisheries, but local fishers also resort to destructive methods. At the same time, sediment runoff and foreign industries exacerbate the decline. Conservation efforts have established protected areas, but their effectiveness is questioned by local people. Governmental presence and enforcement are too limited to mitigate the challenges these communities face. Sustainable practices, effective governance and community engagement are needed to address these issues.

The Grantee

Ailan Awareness

Initiated and led by John Aini, Mila Aini, Michael Ladi, and people from Lovongai Island, Ailan Awareness is a grassroots organization that was founded in 1993 to support and contribute to environmental conservation efforts in the region. Today it is actively involved in developing a new sustainable approach to marine conservation that turns away from traditional conservation methods which excluded Indigenous knowledge and bases all conservation practice on Indigenous knowledge. Through this work, Ailan Awareness empowers coastal communities to manage their own marine resources, ensuring the protection of the people and the reefs. 

In addition to their conservation-related work, Ailan Awareness has also played a significant role in promoting peace and reconciliation among the 12 clans of the island, who've recently been involved in an ongoing civil war. Ailan Awareness has successfully brought about positive change in the community by encouraging cooperation and harmony, fostering unity and cultural pride. Its work is an exemplary model for Indigenous-led initiatives of how to address conflict and preserve cultural heritage.

John Aini. Credit: Ailan Awareness | People's Planet Project

John Aini is a prominent environmental activist who has worked to represent communities across New Hanover island for decades. Mr. Aini has run education and awareness campaigns across coastal communities of New Ireland province, pushing for local and sustainable resource management. In conjunction with this, he has also been involved in coordinating studies of fish stocks and depleting marine ecosystems.

The Project 

Lovongai Island Green Belt: Traditional Land and Sea Management By and For the 12 Clans, Papua New Guinea

Ailan Awareness has fostered inter-clan cooperation and peace through filmmaking and GIS mapping workshops. To sustain peacebuilding efforts and preserve traditional practices, the community needs to apply for traditional land titles. However, they face challenges in documenting their connection to the land due to limited access to tools. This project aims to provide the necessary resources and training to empower them, facilitate knowledge-sharing, advocate for rights, and seek compensation for logging activities conducted without prior consent under Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs).

Credit: Ailan Awareness | People's Planet Project
With this project, Ailan Awareness aims to:

  1. Equip over 17,000 community members to gather evidence of environmental degradation, protect ancestral lands, and pursue legal action.
  2. Empower sixteen trained clan members to utilize their newly acquired filmmaking and GIS mapping skills to collect evidence of environmental destruction and protect ancestral areas from these operations in court and via state-level government institutions.
  3. Identify and re-implement future Ranguma Spaces (traditionally used by men to share knowledge on conservation areas, seasonal practices, fish stock, and other important concerns and practices around the biodiversity and livelihoods, and make decisions), and begin to build power and knowledge of ancestral land and sea management across the island.
Credit: Ailan Awareness | People's Planet Project

To achieve these goals, Ailan Awareness will map three clan boundaries and identify sacred sites with knowledge gained from community consultation with clan elders combined with new technologies. It will also create three ten-minute films documenting traditional knowledge shared by clan elders.

The core team of the project consists of dedicated full-time staff members who play essential roles in education, traditional resource management, community-based fisheries science, and youth management. The project implementation team includes filmmakers and cartographers, each with specialized roles, such as sound engineering and data entry coordination. These teams, along with experienced and newly trained members, have successfully utilized technology to create impactful maps and films while maintaining a solid background in community consultation.

Credit: Ailan Awareness | People's Planet Project

Ailan Awareness has established a valuable partnership with People's Planet Project, which has collaborated with Ailan Awareness to conduct a GeoStory Camp, providing participants with geospatial mapping and filmmaking training. This partnership extends to long-term support, including coordinating working group projects, developing a network of experts, and offering remote technical assistance. Furthermore, the participation of identified community leaders from the GeoStory Camp further enhances the team's ability to advocate for their clans using a combination of ancestral wisdom and new technology. 

Another of Ailan Awareness' significant partnerships is with Barnard College, Columbia University, specifically with Professor Paige West, who, along with her students, contributes research and writing skills to Ailan Awareness' conservation sovereignty work. This partnership fosters a shared vision of empowering Indigenous communities and reclaiming sovereignty over their socio-ecological futures.

We are an ally to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities dealing with matters of access to Health and Water and the protection of the right to maintain traditional ways of living in harmony with Nature.

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