An extensive survey in 1976-82 indicated that sudden death of cocoa was widespread in Papua New Guinea with losses up to 1% per month in trees over 10-yr-old, especially in neglected plantations. Over 95% trees affected had large Phytophthora palmivora canker lesions and over 90% of the cankers were invaded by bark beetles. In an intensive single year survey of one plot 18-8% of 69 healthy trees died. Ambrosiella spp., P. palmivora and Fusarium solani were isolated from wood surrounding beetle tunnels but only the last two caused extensive lesions when inoculated into the xylem of healthy trees. The evidence obtained indicated that the sudden death syndrome is initiated by P. palmivora cankers on trunks and main branches but bark beetles are a major contributory factor and fungi associated with their tunnels may contribute to the problem. There is a risk of further outbreaks of the disease as cocoa cultivars susceptible to P. palmivora continue to be planted.