Karawari Cave Arts Fund

Image: Nancy Sullivan and Associates

Synchronicity Earth began supporting the work of Nancy Sullivan and her team in 2014 to conduct a biodiversity survey of the forest and freshwater ecosystems surrounding the Karawari Caves in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and use this information to submit an application for UNESCO World Heritage Site status to protect the site. Tragically, Nancy died in a car crash on Friday, 15th July 2015. A new organisation has been set up to work with the Meakambut in Karawari: the Karawari Cave Arts Fund.

Working as an Anthropologist, Nancy lived in PNG for over two decades, working with local ethnographers to document ancient hand printings in the Karawari Caves. These caves, which lie at the headwaters of the Arufundi and Karawari Rivers in East Sepik Province, are thought to represent the largest cave art complex in the Southern hemisphere and are home to the Meakambut, believed to be the last cave-dwelling nomads in PNG. Nancy developed strong relationships with people living in and around the caves. With their involvement, her team of local scientists conducted a biodiversity survey of the area, focusing on important plant and butterfly species. In 2014, Nancy successfully used these ethnographic and biodiversity data to secure a “Tentative Listing” status for Karawari as a UNESCO for World Heritage Site (WHS). Securing an official WHS listing could help to protect the area’s biological and cultural diversity from destructive extractive activity, such as gold mining and logging, which present growing and immediate threats to the region’s rainforests and rivers. Nancy and her colleagues managed to stall such activity via an online petition and social media campaign, but the area needs long-term protection and plans are underway to work with communities to establish a Conservation Area.

Following Nancy’s tragic death, her family have continued her legacy by forming a new organisation: Karawari Cave Arts Fund. They have recently brought on board Papua New Guinean biologist, Banak Gamui, as Executive Director.

At A Glance