The environmental efforts in New Caledonia are mainly focused on the preservation of the coral reefs, the prevention of fires as well as invasive species, and the prevention of further damage to and replenishment of the terrestrial environment caused by Nickel mining.
Trees damaged by deer rubbing against the bark. Courtesy of foretseche.nc.
Dry forests The dry forests of New Caledonia are among the most unique on Earth, due to New Caledonia’s isolation for millions of years. However, this biodiversity is extremely threatened, with only 2% of the ecoregion’s dry forests remaining. Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia, diversity is found throughout the soil substrate, the topography, and the climate. The intensity of the hydrous stress the vegetation undergoes during the dry season, the proximity to the coastline, and the geological substratums all effect the plant formations and create the immense biological diversity. The dry forests have a thick, unstratified understory of shrubs and grasses, and the forests deciduous trees relatively dense, but grow only 9-12m in height. Certain varieties of rice, such as the Oryza Newocalidonea have adapted to the dry conditions. Additionally, numerous rare plants like the Captaincookia Margaretae are only found in the New Caledonian dry forests. The greatest threats the dry forests face are intentionally ignited fires, trampling by cattle, and the invasion of non-endemic species such as fire ants.
Coral Reefs In 2004, Conservation International, with the help of the local government of Nord, conducted a rapid assessment program survey of 42 coral reefs in the province Nord, which led the local government to apply for World Heritage recognition. Out of respect for the local tribes, no specimens were collected although that is normally common practice in rapid assessment program surveys. In 2006, Conservation International visited Nord again in collaboration with the WWF and the French government, in order to discuss the results of the survey as well as provide further recommendations to improve conservation to the Kanak people. New Caledonia boasts the world’s second-largest barrier reef, and the New Caledonian lagoon has been nominated has a world heritage site.
Deteriorated forest from invasion by Passiflore suberosa. Courtesy of foretseche.nc.
Invasive Species and Fires Conservation International has worked closely with the government of Nord and the local environment group Dayi Biik to control exotic invasive species such as rates, deer, and boards through biological inventories, and innovative techniques. Deer and board impact biodiversity, the introduction of these exotic animals also poses a risk to food and health safety. This effort has brought positive results in limiting the populations of invasive species and has included efforts to improve fire use and management. In New Caledonia, bush fires contribute to soil erosion. This degrades into rivers and the nearby lagoon, which affects the local populations access to clean drinking water as well as the local food security.
Mining One of the most apparent and immediate issues to the biodiversity of New Caledonia is mining for nickel. Nickel mining is a massive sector in the New Caledonian economy; the islands contain 7,100,000 tons of nickel, which is equivalent to ten percent of the world’s reserves. New Caledonia is the world fifth largest producer of Nickel with an annual production of 107,000 tons. Nickel mining causes negative environmental effects because sediment and other waste from the mines flow into the rivers and streams, which become restricted by the buildup. This causes adverse effects in the wetlands, estuaries, and bays, allow which are affected by the reported red clay and lateritic sub-soil. The mining operations are now better managed then in the past, however the new Goro Nickel Plant serves as a major environmental concern, as other plants and mines have continued to show their negative effects on local coral reefs and animal species.
The government of New Caledonia increasingly passes new legislation to maintain the balance of environmental conservation measures and the mining industry, already requiring re-vegetation of past mine sites, remote surveying of the land, and the achievement of declaring the 14 zones covering the islands as protected areas. Additionally, a monitoring team of inspectors of the mines was created to ensure that the pollution abatement measures the government enacted were upheld.
Map of Nickel Mining Sites in New Caledonia,
Courtesy of the European Journal of Mineralogy
Damage from forest clearing. Courtesy of foretseche.nc.
Clearing of Dry Forests and Urbanization The dry forest has been cleared away and given over to farming and pasture. The increased size of cattle herds has caused an extensive clearing of dry forests. This process accounts for the present cover of dry forest and its scattered feature. The dry forests have also been cleared to make way for housing and industry. In addition, those who own dry forest land have little knowledge of the environment. The people’s lack of knowledge is causing them to do things that re detrimental to the dry forests’ survival. They need to know that the clearing away of forest and letting domestic animals loose in the forest is not good for the dry forest environment. Awareness is needed in these areas.
What’s being done? The efforts of conservation international as well as a more informed local population has allowed for the development of sustainable biodiversity conservation strategies and mechanics, set up to attempt to curb the negative effects on the environment the mining industry has had.