When I think of nature preserves and national parks, I immediately think of places like the Grand Canyon, Pelican Island and Yosemite National Park. But these expanses pale in comparison to the world’s newest and largest protected area: the waters around New Caledonia, located about 2,000 miles east of Australia. Across an aquatic area three times the size of Germany, this small island (also a French territory) and its government is setting the bar pretty high for the rest of the world.
BIODIVERSITY IN NEW CALEDONIA
What makes the dedication of so much maritime territory significant is the astounding amount of biodiversity in the area. The waters around New Caledonia are home to the Chesterfield and Bellona barrier reefs. Here, deep sediment basins and seamounts create an underwater terrain that fosters an amazing number of species.
So far, scientists have noted 48 species of sharks, 19 different kinds of nesting birds, 25 different marine mammals and five species of sea turtles who call the waters home. As with most island nations, New Caledonia sustains itself on a large amount of fish from the Pacific, and thankfully, illegal fishing is the only significant threat posed to this wet paradise.
AICHI BIODIVERSITY TARGETS
New Caledonia’s move is a great step towards hitting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted by the United Nations in Nagoya, Japan, back in 2010. The targets include addressing biodiversity loss and reducing the pressures on biodiversity around the world. Through making biodiversity a mainstream idea, the United Nations hopes to have changed how the world views the environment and living creatures by 2020.
It’s the first official move toward the Pacific Oceanscape, a collaborative project involving 16 different islands and six territories for a total of 15.4 million square miles of conservation land—about four times the size of the United States. The New Caledonian government leaders are also intent on involving the Kanak people—the indigenous group that makes up about half of the island’s population—in decisions about the region.
NEW CALEDONIA’S PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
The government, in partnership with organizations like Conservation International, look forward to growing the “blue economy” of the island. Ninety-five percent of its waters are being dedicated to the preserve, which will help to ensure continued partnership with humans and the world around them. Scientific research and fishing will take place off New Caledonia’s shores, but leaders also look forward to tourism and sustainable fishing practices. Although current improper fishing techniques are the only threat posed to these waters, New Caledonia may be threatened by deep-sea oil drilling and heavy ship traffic coming in and out of Queensland, Australia, in the future. That’s something we all need to be on the lookout for.