There is very little known about the status of marine mammals in Papua New Guinea waters, although a variety of species has been reported. The PNGLNG Community Investment Program has funded research on dolphins and dugongs (‘Pidu’) in the Kikori Delta since 2013. Two dolphin species have been sighted in the Delta; the humpback (Sousa sahulensis) and snubfin (Orcaella heinsohni) dolphin. These two species are not found anywhere else in the Pacific Islands.

Recent surveys throughout the Kikori Delta have found that populations of the two dolphin species are very small (less than 200 individuals), and likely declining, primarily due to accidental bycatch in fisheries. Further research is urgently required to monitor the abundance and distribution of dolphins in the Delta. Community meetings are also required to update local Kikori communities on the dolphin status and discuss potential conservation options.

ExxonMobil PNG Ltd has a commitment to improving access to education and skills training of university students in PNG. As part of this commitment, ExxonMobil PNG in partnership with James Cook University (JCU) and the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) have established the ‘PNGLNG – PIDU Research Scholarship’, to enable PNG Honours and Masters students to conduct studies on inshore dolphins and dugongs in the Kikori Delta region, Gulf Province, PNG. As part of this scholarship program, ExxonMobil PNG Ltd has now supported two PNG students to successfully complete postgraduate degrees on marine mammals. Ms Wilma Mavea successfully completed her Postgraduate Diploma at UPNG in 2018. Mr Elizah Nagombi successfully completed a Masters in Tropical Biology and Conservation at JCU in 2018 and has recently completed a Graduate Certificate of Research Methods, also at JCU.

A new opportunity now exists for a further PNG student to be selected. One Honours scholarship to study at UPNG will begin in February 2019, which will cover all tuition, living and research costs. Applications are now open, with a view to selecting a candidate who has a keen interest in marine mammals and a passion to further their knowledge and understanding of the coastal/estuary and marine environment. Further details about this exciting opportunity can be obtained from the PIDU Scholarship Manager, Dr Isabel Beasley ([email protected]).