After a recent field trip to Papua New Guinea, ERIAS environmental science graduate Holly Lubcke shared her experiences.
What an incredible first experience working in the field it was to spend a month in the beautiful Gulf Province of Papua New Guinea, where I partook in a pre-clearance survey for TOTAL Energies’ Papua LNG Project.
This included flora and fauna surveying, aquatic habitat assessment, water quality and acid sulphate soil sampling across the proposed 260-km pipeline, well pads and processing facilities. Our survey team included specialists in ecology, botany, archaeology and anthropology, bush cutters who shared their local knowledge and experience of the survey area, and paramedics who ensured our safety from many threats the jungle provides. The data collected has helped the client to understand the existing environment around their operation, what the potential impacts may be and how best to mitigate them.
We stayed as a team at Herd Base located inland, adjacent to the Purari River. It was very remote with no access by road requiring a small airplane flight and boat trip to reach the base from Port Moresby. From Herd Base, we were helicoptered to helipads (11 in total) throughout the survey footprint, where we then transited on foot, covering ~120 km2 over the month. Transportation via helicopter never got old, and I was just as excited every trip into the field to see the landscape from a bird’s eye view. We had four subgroups within our survey team: terrestrial, aquatic, cultural heritage, and data entry back at base. I was lucky enough to mix between teams and develop my skills in various areas.
I especially enjoyed working with the terrestrial group, where we identified, marked, and photographed sensitive flora that was endangered, endemic, an important food or nesting source for fauna, and/or culturally significant. We also recorded evidence of fauna, such as sightings, droppings, diggings, footprints, and nests, as well as sensitive habitats, including Pandanus Swamps and Forest Pools. Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s least explored countries, so it was so exciting to witness multiple new-to-science flora species discoveries during my time with the terrestrial group.
Papua New Guinea is incredibly rich and diverse in wildlife, and we came across some amazing sightings: leaf nosed bat colonies, several death adders, an olive Papuan python, “puk puk” (freshwater crocodile) and endangered freshwater turtle nests, a base resident Cuscus, and various birds of paradise and frog species, just to name a few. The most memorable sighting for me was the large, curious, male “muruk” (southern cassowary) that approached as we sat quietly at a helipad waiting for pick up.
I really enjoyed working with the local village guides, and appreciated learning about their village culture, language, and their methods of living off the land. They were just as eager to hear about my life back in Australia. I absorbed a wealth of knowledge from the specialists, my ERIAS colleagues and all the TOTAL Energies personnel and contractors at Herd Base, such as the pilots and engineers who hail from all over the globe. However, it was not all that glamorous: bush walking for several hours in extreme humidity whilst avoiding leaches, working long days in a remote part of the world, and taking safety measures I would never have to think about at home as a woman, challenged me at times, but allowed me to grow as a person.
I am very grateful for this amazing and unique opportunity that not many people in general, let alone 20-year-old university students are lucky enough to experience. I have brought home life-long memories, friendships, academic connections, and valuable fieldwork and life skills from the jungle that I will take with me and into my career journey, as an aspiring environmental professional.