Sustainability is not a new idea. When people first landed on New Caledonia’s shores 3,500 years ago, they began making efforts to conserve the island’s bounty for future generations.
From forests to fisheries, today the descendants of those first settlers are working together with Conservation International (CI) for the same purpose, in the face of new conservation challenges. Their efforts may hold the key to preserving one of the world’s little-known yet most unique regions.
Found Nowhere Else
At about 19,000 square kilometers (almost 12,000 square miles) the French overseas territory of New Caledonia is about the size of New Jersey. The island lies in the South Pacific, northeast of Australia. Rainforest, mangrove and savanna all coexist on New Caledonia, and as many as 70-75 percent of the island’s species are thought to be found nowhere else on earth– a percentage only topped by Hawaii, New Zealand and Madagascar.
EXPLORE: New Caledonia Biodiversity Hotspot
In addition to the more than 3,200 native plant species of New Caledonia, the island is also home to the world’s largest gecko and arboreal pigeon (Rhacodactylus leachianus and Ducula goliath, respectively), as well as the kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus), a flightless bird that is often the emblem for local species conservation. Rare species of sharks, sea turtles, tuna and dugongs (Dugong dugon) thrive off the northern coast of the island, in one of the world’s only double barrier reefs.
Learning from the Past, Preparing for the Future
Threats such as nickel mining, wildfires and invasive species are endangering New Caledonia’s ecosystems - critical for the survival of the island’s 240,000 people. The indigenous Kanak people are especially reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods. Today the Kanak make up about 44 percent of the island’s total population, mostly living in Province Nord, the territory’s northern province.
Traditionally organized into tribes headed by chiefs, restrictions and bans on fishing and hunting in depleted areas are long-standing practices for the Kanak. People wishing to fish beyond tribal boundaries must ask permission from neighboring chiefs. In addition, totemic species, such as certain types of shark, are given special respect and usually left alone.
IN DEPTH: CI works with communities all around the world. Discover these unique partnerships.
A Vital Partnership
CI has been working in New Caledonia since 1996, and partnering directly with the Kanak people since 2002. In 2004, CI assisted with the formation of Dayu Biik, the first indigenous environmental nonprofit in New Caledonia.
Named after a local species of kaori tree (Agathis montana), Dayu Biik has greatly expanded in the past few years. Working on a variety of environmental and development projects, Dayu Biik represents the province’s nonprofits on the island government’s Environmental Advisory Committee.
A Shared Path Toward Sustainability
The collaboration between CI and Dayu Biik has been instrumental to the success of both marine and terrestrial conservation projects. In 2004 and 2007, CI conducted two Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) surveys of coral reef habitats north of the island, and engaged with Kanak tribe members to learn more about their traditional resource management methods. The support of the Kanak people played a crucial role in the designation of the lagoons of New Caledonia as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
The Mont Panié Wilderness Reserve and its surroundings encompass one of the largest remaining rainforests on New Caledonia; CI supports Dayu Biik management of the reserve with the local government, the New Zealand Department of Conservation and the Pacific Invasives Initiative. Current projects include ecotourism development through trail construction and training of indigenous tour guides; native species research; invasive species management, including an integrated multi-pests program; and further incorporation of traditional tribal laws with the reserve’s management plan in order to prevent overexploitation of resources.
LEARN MORE: Find out about how ecotourism can benefit both people and nature.
The reserve has already improved the livelihoods of many community members, who are now trained as researchers or tour guides.
In addition, Province Nord President Paul Néaoutyine recently asked CI to develop a carbon mitigation program for the region that would help offset the emissions of the island’s extensive nickel mining (it contains one-fourth of the world’s known nickel resources). If approved by the Kanak president, not only will the project help New Caledonia join the global fight against climate change, but it will also serve as a stepping stone for future development projects which will continue to improve local lives in remote areas, while supporting forest conservation.
“It is our culture”
As the Kanak people take a greater role in the governance of their homeland, CI is proud to support their efforts to improve human well-being through the conservation of a truly unique place. Daniel Fisdiepas, the mayor of Hienghène, a village near the Mont Panié Wilderness Reserve, emphasizes the importance of this work in a simple statement.
“We need the forest. We need to restore it. It is our culture.”
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