Western Province is the largest province in Papua New Guinea, covering 97,300 square kilometers, or approximately one-fifth of Papua New Guinea’s land mass.
The 2011 census estimated that there are 201,351 people in Western Province. The population is sparsely spread throughout the province. While the northern region of the province is generally mountainous, its lowlands are flat and mostly covered in sub littoral waterways and mangrove swamps fed by hundreds of tributaries flowing into the Strickland and Fly rivers and the iconic Lake Murray. Remote villages in this part of the province are scattered far and wide with their only means of accessibility being by boat or aircraft. The three official political regions of Western Province are the North Fly, Middle Fly and South Fly Districts. The Fly River is the second longest river in Papua New Guinea and known to be the third largest river in the world by volume of water discharged from the mouth.
The Fly River is 1,050 kilometres long (650 miles) and meanders through the province before flowing into the Gulf of Papua. In the upper reaches of the North Fly the river creates small valleys through the rugged mountains flowing quickly into the Middle Fly, a region characterised by wide floodplains and numerous tributaries and swamps. In the upstream sections the vegetation includes open rainforest, swamp forest and sago while the lower reaches have traditionally experienced flooding and support extensive areas of swamp grasses. The South Fly region has tidal influence and supports extensive mangroves in the lower reaches of a massive delta that spans more than 90 kilometres at the mouth.
The river is a lifeline for the many thousands of people that live along its banks and tributaries, not only in terms of accessibility but also food security, reliant on the many fish and prawn species abundant in the river as a regular protein source. The Fly River is also the main route for mining supplies and distribution of government services via a growing fleet of commercial vessels.