New Caledonia’s highest peak performs a vital function, capturing fresh water in its skyscraping cloud forest — the largest in the Pacific islands — that flows downhill to the communities and coral reefs below.
And for the indigenous Kanak people, Mount Panié is sacred, home to the world’s only stand of Mount Panié kauri tree, a critically endangered — and revered — endemic species of conifer tree.
The health of Mount Panié reflects the health of the island and its people. As climate change, invasive species and land degradation threaten New Caledonia’s ecosystems and the traditional practices of its peoples, protecting this mountain — and the vital services it provides — is essential.
Why is it important?
New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanak people have a strong cultural connection to their natural environment and are the customary guardians of Mount Panié. They believe their ancestors’ spirits lie in the mountain’s cloud forest, which is dominated by thousand-year-old kauri trees.
Twenty percent of Mount Panie’s plant species and forty percent of reptile species are threatened, designating the mountain a key biodiversity area and a critical priority for conservation.
Ridge to reef
The health of New Caledonia’s world heritage reef is intertwined with that of its mountains. The rain captured in Mount Panié’s cloud forest eventually flows into the downstream waters and reefs that surround the island.
MT. PANIÉ — LAST STAND FOR NEW CALEDONIA'S SACRED KAURI
"Mt. Panié - Last Stand for New Caledonia's Sacred Kauri," produced by Emmy award winner Shawn Heinrichs begins atop Mt. Panié, home to the single last stand of the ancient Kauri tree, a canopy tree which lives over 1,000 years. Truly a
story of 'reef-to-ridge' connectivity, in which local conservation heroes relate how this sacred forest feeds the rivers and rich coral reefs of this tropical paradise, and how the people depend on the continued health of this natural system.
The film takes you on their deep and personal journey, for themselves and for their children, to understand how climate change and invasive species are killing these ancient trees, a species that has been recognized as Critically Endangered, and how the increasing loss of these trees places the local (Kanak) way of life and unique culture under threat. But there is hope. With support from Conservation International, and Province Nord government, the local Kanak tribes and clans have responded by creating the first indigenous conservation organization in New Caledonia. They are now determined to double the size of the Mount Panié Protected Area with Conservation International’s support.
What are the issues?
Climate breakdown is reducing rainfall while increasing the frequency and drought period on Mount Panié. This is a deadly combination for the kauri tree, which is highly sensitive to water stress. As the main canopy tree, the kauri acts like an umbrella for the cloud forest, protecting the undergrowth from weather that would wipe it out, as well as fifteen other micro-endemic species.
Invasive pig and deer species disturb the soil and damage tree roots — likely spreading harmful soil pathogens among the trees, killing the kauri. As trees are uprooted, the land is eroded, sending sediment downstream, affecting the quality of drinking water and suffocating coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds in the world's largest lagoon.
Conservation International was invited in 2002 by the Province Nord authority to convene stakeholders — including indigenous customary authorities — to set up a conservation program in co-management for Mount Panié wilderness reserve. Since then, we have together established the “Dayu Biik” Association, which is implementing the co-management plan for Mt Panié wilderness and other environmental activities around the reserve. Conservation International has supported Dayu Biik capacity building and found additional resources for the conservation in co-management of Mt Panié wilderness reserve, including for its current expansion project. Province Nord has notably committed significant resources for the effective management of the protected area and has pioneered on this site strategic field projects for provincial policy design. We are all proud to be working well together on this priority site.
Expanding the wilderness reserve
Currently, 70 percent of the kauri tree population lies outside the Mount Panié Wilderness Reserve — leaving the trees unprotected by formal conservation management. In partnership with the Dayu Biik Association and government, Conservation International is working to expand the current protected area to encompass the mountain’s full kauri habitat, increasing it from 5,400 to 10,000 hectares (about 13,300 to 24,711 acres).
The indigenous Dayu Biik Association manages the Mount Panié Wilderness Reserve, following a conservation plan created by a board of decision-makers and technical specialists. This plan has generated local jobs and increased training among the Kanak in professional hunting, guided hikes and assisting scientists. Conservation international has also trained the Kanak to use a monitoring system we created to track kauri tree health using drones and satellite imagery data, and participative forest health monitoring.
Dealing with pests
Alarmed by the damage we were seeing on Mount Panié in the early 2000s, we helped the government draft a national strategy to help control invasive deer and pig populations, including teaching local hunters safe techniques for this work. Today, the government of New Caledonia not only recognizes and understands the threat of deer and pig to the island’s forests, soil, water and coastal ecosystems, it has provided the guidance and funding to protect and restore New Caledonia’s priority areas.