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Ok Tedi Environment

The Star Mountains and the Hindenburg Range, with elevations above 3,000 m, divide the waters of the Sepik to the north, and the Fly River system to the south. The Fly River and its most important tributaries Strickland River and Ok Tedi, form a watershed of 100,000 km2. The Fly has a length of 1,100 km. With rainfalls some of the highest in the world - up to 14 m/year - the relatively short rivers are fed with enormous quantities of water. After a short course in the mountainous area, through V-shaped valleys and narrow gorges, the rivers enter the lowlands. From the junction of Ok Tedi and Fly, the river descends only 20 m to sea level. It is meandering in wide bows, forming sediment walls on the banks and at the mouths of smaller tributaries, large swamp areas, and shallow lakes behind the bank walls. Approaching the sea, it opens to a wide funnel with many islands in between. Because of the high tidal range, and a sudden drop of riverbed level to sea ground, a tidal bore develops regularly at the mouth of the Fly. Precipitation at the estuary still exceeds 2 m/year.
According to landscape, vegetation ranges from highland rainforest, lowland rainforest, swamp plains, savanna, to mangroves. New Guinea is famous for its bird- and insect life. As the Fly River catchment is sparsely inhabited, wildlife is undisturbed on large areas, even compared to Newguinean standards.

Digital Elevation Model, compiled from data of ATDI - cartography

Moths are attracted by the floodlights of the mine, where work is going on day and night. Moth movie

The Fly River system inhabits the most diversified stock of fresh water fish in the Australasian region. Hettler quotes an investigation by Roberts in 1978, that 105 freshwater fish species were found, compared to only 57 in the Sepik. Numerous mollusks, crayfish and shrimp, amphibians, and reptiles, among them giant salt water crocodiles, live in the Fly.

Barry the Barramundi (Lates Calcarifer) is feeding on jabbies at Sydney Aquarium (Picture from SA video)

The Fly River is a core habitat of Barramundi, which may grow 1.5 m and 60 kg here. Barramundi spawn in the coastal waters, and migrate upstream to feed and grow. Besides black bass and freshwater prawn, it is the preferred target of commercial fisheries. Barramundi is grown in aquaculture at many sites around the Chinese Sea, but wild barramundi is priced higher.

Crocodiles and men complete the food chain. Whether man eats crocodile, or crocodile eats man, is a matter of circumstance. This "Saltie" lives at Sidney Aquarium. (Picture from SA video)

Due to variable hydrologic conditions - river level at Kiunga may change 15 m within a day - most species are opportunistic and adapted to natural desasters. The impact of the mine, however, adds a new threat to life in the river.

Original issue April 2001
last update

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