Qualitative modelling of gold mine impacts on Lihir Island's socioeconomic system and reef-edge fish community

Jeffrey M. Dambacher*, David T. Brewer, Darren M. Dennis, Martha Macintyre, Simon Foale

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    48 Citations (Scopus)


    Inhabitants of Lihir Island, Papua New Guinea, have traditionally relied on reef fishing and rotational farming of slash-burn forest plots for a subsistence diet. However, a new gold mine has introduced a cash economy to the island's socioeconomic system and impacted the fringing coral reef through sedimentation from the near-shore dumping of mine wastes. Studies of the Lihirian people have documented changes in population size, local customs, health, education, and land use; studies of the reef have documented impacts to fish populations in mine affected sites. Indirect effects from these impacts are complex and indecipherable when viewed only from isolated studies. Here, we use qualitative modelling to synthesize the social and biological research programs in order to understand the interaction of the human and ecological systems. Initial modelling results appear to be consistent with differences in fish and macroalgae populations in sites with and without coral degradation due to sedimentation. A greater cash flow from mine expansion is predicted to increase the human population, the intensity of the artisanal fishery, and the rate of sewage production and land clearing. Modelling results are being used to guide ongoing research projects, such as monitoring fish populations and artisanal catch and patterns and intensity of land clearing.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)555-562
    Number of pages8
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2007


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