Ecotourism in New Caledonia

Article excerpt

Ecotourism is the current buzzword in development circles for the interior of new Caledonia's Grande Terre and Loyalty Islands Province. Difference and separateness together with primeval and endemic are its nature and culture themes.

New Caledonia is becoming one of the newest alternative tourism destinations in the Pacific in a quest to provide economic and other benefits to those sectors of its society that suffered from the colonial administration of the territory and to diversify its economy. Its remoteness and its dependency status have protected it from mass tourism exploitation and degradation of its natural and cultural assets. It is developing ecotourism in the interior and on its surrounding islands based on local and/or indigenous entrepreneurism, from the grassroots, of both its natural and cultural resources. The territory does need to put more emphasis on environmental awareness and protection to maintain or enhance its natural and cultural resource base, which presently suffers from environmental neglect by other activities like mining and agriculture.

Tourism Development in New Caledonia

New Caledonia is new to marketing itself as a tourism destination. It has not yet exploited the allure of its separateness and difference. The government of the Provinces are in charge of tourism policy. These provinces were only created in 1988. New Caledonia also has many nickel and chrome mines, which have provided the territory with a steady revenue even if only one ethnic group benefited most from their exploitation. The government in New Caledonia had thus not felt the need to develop other economic activities nor to embrace tourism as a development strategy (Conlin & Baum 1995). The Kanak majorities of the Northern and Island Provinces, on the other hand, need to develop jobs and economic opportunities for their residents.

Visitor numbers are small, reflecting New Caledonia's isolation as a French and Kanak speaking entity in a dominantly English speaking southwest Pacific as well as its remoteness. The closest large land mass is Australia, 1500kms away. New Zealand lies 1800 kms from New Caledonia. 100,000 visitors stayed in hotels, gites, and with family and friends in 1999. Another 40,000 touched shore from cruise ships. Japan sends the largest proportion (30%), France 29% and Australia 16%. Only 1650 Americans visited New Caledonia in 2000 (Province Sud 2000, 2001). In its new quest to attract consumers of its natural and cultural landscapes, it faces competition from other destinations in the Pacific developed earlier like French Polynesia or the Solomon Islands.

New Caledonia is trying different images to increase its number of visitors both international and domestic. One of these images is that of the "Original Land" characterized by primeval landscapes and cultures. New Caledonia is not a volcanic island but a remnant of Gondwanaland. It possesses thus a rich and varied endemic flora: of the 19 species of Araucaria that exist in the world, 13 are endemic to New Caledonia which hosts 7% of the conifer species of the world (IRD 2001). Plants are particularly interesting because of their adaptation to nickel and other heavy metals on which soils are found. In some areas, little of the pristine vegetation is left (only a few hundred hectares remain of the original sclerophytic forests) but 90% of the flowering plants are endemic.

New Caledonia's other marketing image is that of the "Island Closest to Paradise" to echo a famous novel of that title that had been a best-seller in Japan. New Caledonia's specific flora, its stunning interior vistas and the transparency of the water of its lagoon, one of the largest in the world, are strong magnets. One species of Nautilus (the only known cephalopod mollusc to have a shell) exists only in the waters surrounding New Caledonia. Its territorial waters are frequented by three species of turtles whose females nest on the sandy beaches of the uninhabited Recifs d'Entrecastreaux but they are greatly endangered by hunting in spite of legal protection. …