New Caledonia has made encouraging progress in ocean protection over the past several years, but much of its waters remain in need of protection.
In 2018, the government fully protected the reefs of Astrolabe, Bellona, Chesterfield, Petrie, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Entrecasteaux—a combined area of 28,000 square kilometers of ocean—within the Coral Sea Natural Park. Later that year, the government announced its intent to fully protect an additional 200,000 to 400,000 square kilometers of its marine waters within the park. Fulfilling this commitment would help New Caledonia make an important contribution towards the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature recommendation to protect 30 percent of all ocean habitats. Fully protected areas can increase and sustain biodiversity, enhance ecosystem resilience, and protect cultural traditions. However, only 4.8 percent of the global ocean is covered by some form of protection.
New Caledonia’s Coral Sea Natural Park, created in 2014, encompasses 1.3 million square kilometers. This area is considered one of the most diverse places on the planet, with 9,300 known marine species. It is home to myriad threatened animals, including, sharks, sea turtles, and manta rays, that breed, feed, and migrate through these waters. From July to September, New Caledonia’s waters are also a nursing ground for migrating humpback whales. Approximately 700,000 seabirds nest on the country’s islands, and as many as 2.5 million seabirds can be found across New Caledonia’s exclusive economic zone. However, except for the protected reef areas, much of the park remains without specific management provisions to safeguard these important ecosystems.
In New Caledonia, communities and nongovernmental organizations continue to advocate for the government to boost protections in the country’s waters and fulfil its 2018 commitment. To raise awareness and generate community involvement around expanded protections, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, together with local organizations, helped support the 10th annual Underwater Image Festival and hosted an event on June 8, 2019, to celebrate World Oceans Day.
The Underwater Image Festival, with a panel of judges led by renowned Australian photographer Darren Jew and his colleague Jasmine Carey, featured 282 photos from photographers in 12 countries, as well as numerous short films and slideshows. As part of the festival, a facilitated discussion that included members of the Scientific Committee for the Coral Sea Natural Park focused on the importance of using science in establishing marine protections. Representatives from the New Caledonian government attending the festival emphasized that they are still seeking high level protections for the abyssal trench and seamounts within the Coral Sea Natural Park. Support for marine protections from the government and citizens alike reflects a bright future for the ocean around New Caledonia.
The 2019 World Oceans Day event on Duck Island—located off the coast near Nouméa, New Caledonia’s capital—was, like the previous year, at full capacity with over 700 attendees. The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project collaborated with 18 local partners to make the event possible. Notable attendees included prominent community members from New Caledonia’s Southern Province and guests from the Australian Embassy. A big draw at this year’s event was the announcement of the three winners of the Blue Trophies project, which funds local marine conservation efforts and is voted on by community members and a small panel of judges. This year’s winners are Ambassadeurs des Océans, a group educating high schoolers about marine policy by hosting model U.N. meetings; Plastikiller, a group working to protect turtles from plastic pollution; and Protège Ton Isle, a group surveying and mitigating the impacts of overcrowding on small islands.
Events such as the Underwater Image Festival and World Oceans Day bring together the community, government, and conservation organizations to engage in a dialogue about ocean conservation and the benefits of marine protected areas. The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project and its partners hope that these events will connect people with their governments, to work together to protect the ocean for generations to come.
Christophe Chevillon is a senior manager and Gillian Sawyer is an associate with the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project.