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New Caledonia

At Sea: November 2013
Country: France

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The Place

In the waters off the remote coral islands and atolls of New Caledonia in the South Pacific’s Coral Sea, the fish have likely never seen a diver, and it’s the sharks—blacktips, whitetips, silvertips, gray reefs, nurse sharks, and others—that preside over the pristine reefs, their familiar shapes moving above a seafloor covered in hard and soft corals.

Joining them is an incredible abundance of life. In the Huon Islands, sea snakes, giant clams, sea lilies, and minute anemone shrimp all claim space. Just north of the mainland, at Astrolabe Reef, large groupers and Napoleon wrasses ply the waters, and the vulnerable bumphead parrotfish can swim in schools of as many as 75 individuals.

In the west, the Chesterfield Islands serve as the most important rookery in the South Pacific for green sea turtles, which swim, mate, and lay their eggs here.

New Caledonia is also home to the world’s third largest population of dugongs, and its lagoons have been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Map by National Geographic Society Staff

The Mission

Prior to the November 2013 Pristine Seas expedition, this portion of the Coral Sea had barely been explored.

National Geographic partnered with the Waitt Institute, the Université de Nouvelle-Calédonie, and France’s Institut de Recherche Pour le Développement (IRD) to explore, survey, and film these remote reefs and to fill gaps in the existing scientific data on the area. Over the course of the three-week expedition, the team used cutting-edge technology such as closed-circuit rebreathers and a remotely operated vehicle to explore the islands’ marine environment.

These reefs are like windows into the past—but unfortunately serve as reminders for how much we have lost.

Alan Friedlander
Chief Scientist

The Result

In 2014, the government of New Caledonia announced its intention to create an EEZ-wide marine park with zones for different activities, including no-take marine reserves. The government is still in the process of delineating these use zones.

The Highlights

On the sandy lagoon floor, sea turtles are caught in the act. Divers at Chesterfield can’t tell who’s more surprised to see each other—them or the fish. Tiny green umbrellas fill an evolutionary gap. Pictures show Huon’s incredible diversity of species. A school of bumphead parrot fish makes for an impressive sight at Astrolabe.

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