The government of New Caledonia has been praised for its commitment to safeguarding its precious marine heritage.
The government recently voted to designate 10% of the Natural Park of the Coral Sea, a marine reserve covering New Caledonia’s entire exclusive economic zone, as “highly protected”.
This conservation move, endorsed during public consultation, will prohibit fishing and other extractive activities in the newly established marine protected areas. The decision increases the portion of New Caledonia’s waters under high protection from 2.4% to 10%, preserving crucial habitats for an array of marine life.
New Caledonia, a French territory situated in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, is renowned for its exceptionally diverse and thriving marine life. Its waters are graced with species that are exclusive to the region, making it a biodiversity hotspot of global significance.
At the heart of this biodiversity are the extensive, unspoiled coral reefs that have earned international acclaim for their remarkable health and vibrancy. These reefs serve as the foundation for an intricate ecosystem. Among the diverse inhabitants are an array of brilliantly colored coral reef fish such as parrotfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and triggerfish, as well as larger predatory species like groupers, barracudas, and sharks.
New Caledonia’s waters are graced with species that are exclusive to the region, making it a biodiversity hotspot of global significance.
Above water, New Caledonia’s pristine shores provide nesting grounds for sea turtles and serve as essential breeding sites for species like shearwaters and petrels. “New Caledonia’s quarter of a million people depend on [these] healthy ecosystems for their fresh water, food and livelihoods — especially because the territory’s main source of income, nickel mining, will run out one day,” explained Conservation International, which has had a presence here since 1996. “Ecotourism and improved management of the island’s marine resources could fuel a sustainable economy in the future.”
The Natural Park of the Coral Sea, designated in 2014, is not only a biodiversity hotspot but also a cultural sanctuary for the local Kanak communities. The Kanak people, as the indigenous Melanesian inhabitants, are characterized by a tapestry of subgroups, each with distinct languages and cultural customs. Traditional practices, such as subsistence farming, fishing, and hunting, are intrinsic to the Kanak way of life, deeply woven into their cultural fabric.
Their traditions are steeped in oral storytelling, songs, and dances, serving as conduits for the transmission of history, knowledge, and cultural values across generations. Over the years, Kanak communities have been politically engaged, playing a significant role in New Caledonia’s political landscape.
Among the diverse inhabitants are an array of brilliantly colored coral reef fish such as parrotfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and triggerfish, as well as larger predatory species like groupers, barracudas, and sharks.
“The Natural Park of the Coral Sea is a biological and cultural sanctuary,” said Giuseppe Di Carlo, director of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project. “By protecting one-tenth of the park’s vibrant waters, the government has started to conserve internationally significant ecosystems, habitat for an array of unique marine life, and areas that are culturally important to New Caledonia’s local Kanak communities.”
The protection measures will include a network of marine reserves that aim to shield New Caledonia’s marine ecosystems, including the ecologically significant coral reefs, ancient seamounts, and deep-sea trenches reaching depths of over 7,000 metres.
These areas are crucial for the breeding, feeding, and migration of seabirds and marine mammals, such as humpback whales. “By designating 10% of the park as highly protected, the government has started to uphold the commitment it made when establishing the park nearly a decade ago,” Di Carlo said. “Progress has been slow—and there is still much to do—but this important step forward will help preserve New Caledonia’s marine environment for ocean life, the local community, and future generations.”
The move aligns with global conservation efforts, as nations work towards the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework’s goal of protecting at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. This target is deemed critical in the battle against biodiversity loss, the protection of vital ecosystems, and the mitigation of climate change impacts.
Above water, New Caledonia’s pristine shores provide nesting grounds for sea turtles and serve as essential breeding sites for species like shearwaters and petrels.
Born out of the Convention on Biological Diversity aimed at combating the global biodiversity crisis, this framework emerged as a focal point during the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the CBD, hosted in Kunming, China, in 2021 and continued to be refined at COP16 in Montreal, Canada in 2022.
One of the framework’s fundamental features is the promotion of highly protected areas within designated conservation zones, where human activities are significantly restricted or prohibited to safeguard biodiversity.
“When the world committed to protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030, scientists recommended including high levels of protection to ensure true conservation outcomes. The government of New Caledonia has begun to meet that challenge,” philanthropist and ocean advocate Dona Bertarelli said. “As the biodiversity crisis worsens, highly protecting 10% of New Caledonia’s marine waters brings the world one step closer to preserving the basic systems we all rely on.”
Do you care about the oceans? Are you interested in scientific developments that affect them? Then our email newsletter Ultramarine is for you. Click here to become a subscriber.