EXXONMOBIL has issued grants to three postgraduate Papua New Guinean students carrying out conservation research on a species of dolphin which in PNG is only found in the Kikori Delta.

Elizah Nagombi started a Masters program at JCU in February, while Wilma Mavera and Monica Kolkia were also to start their Honours program at UPNG early in the year thanks in part to the K350, 000 provided by ExxonMobil PNG.

The Orcaella heinsohni, or Australian snubfin dolphin, is the subject of a research and conservation program between Australia’s James Cook University (JCU) and the University of PNG (UPNG).

The project also seeks to establish what other marine mammals occur in the Kikori Delta, and work with Papua New Guineans to develop a community-based management plan to enable long-term conservation of marine mammals in the Kikori region.

While the dolphin is found more widely in Australian waters, it is classified as a near threatened species and many researchers believe it would benefit from a more active conservation practice.

One of the lead researchers on the program, JCU’s Isabel Beasley, said the Kikori Delta was the remotest region in which she has studied inshore dolphins.

“Thankfully, ExxonMobil PNG has funded the project, which allows us to charter a live-aboard vessel to safely conduct surveys, and most importantly, engage numerous local PNG counterparts and students in the project,” said Dr Beasley.

“The Kikori Delta is currently the only region in the Pacific Islands and West Papua where Orcaella heinsohni are found, so the population is considered a regional priority for research and conservation.”

UPNG registrar Jennifer Popat said UPNG was proud to partner with JCU in what she said was an important marine research project.

“Without the support of ExxonMobil PNG for these Honours and Masters Scholarships, the scientific knowledge concerning this species of dolphins would remain incomplete,” she said.

EMPNG managing director Andrew Barry said investing in research was part of his company’s approach to preserving Papua New Guinea’s environment.