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Reef Campaign Steps Up For World Heritage Status

NEW CALEDONIA: Campaign Steps Up To Win World Heritage Status For Reef

By Yvonne Sargayoos/Pacific Media Centre

Clashes in New Caledonia persist over nickel mining and coral reefs as indigenous Kanaks campaign for customary authorities to have more say in decision-making over resource development, says an environmental campaigner

Image: Marina Kahlemu campaigning to save New Caledonia's reefs. Photo: Yvonne Sargayoos.

Marina Kahlemu, former president of the Corail Vivant environmental group, says the struggle to save the reef is critical in the face of major mining projects.

"We need to watch what we do on our land with mining because it affects our marine life," she said on a fleeting visit to the Pacific Media Centre yesterday.

She is on her way to Quebec, Canada, to lobby for the reef's inclusion as a classified world heritage site by UNESCO next month. Later, she will also travel to France to lobby the French government.

New Caledonia's 44,000 sq km of reefs and marine ecosystems are the world's second-largest after Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Corail Vivant first proposed that the area to be classified as a world heritage site seven years ago. The attempt did not succeed then so the movement is now trying again.

"We need to start including the customary authorities in the decision-making process. Traditional leaders feel they are being pushed to one side. My job is to tell the government to be careful," said Kahlemu.

Kahlemu proposed that the territorial government should consult the customary senate on how to respect the Kanak people's traditions.

Kahlemu, now secretary of Corail Vivant, is optimistic over the campaign this time "because all parties agree that the reef should be a heritage site".

New Caledonia is undergoing a boom in mining exploration and development

Canadian corporations Inco and Falconbridge and at least five other multinationals are focusing on the remote southern tip of the main island of Grande Terre where Inco's controversial Goro project is most advanced.

AUT University television lecturer Jim Marbrook, who is researching the nickel mining industry in New Caledonia as part of a documentary film he is producing on the topic, said: "This is a complex issue.

Image: Campaigner Marina Kahlemu. Photo: Jim Marbrook.

"The locals are divided as mining is one of New Caledonia's main economic earners and 2500 jobs would be lost if mining is stopped.

"However, many fishermen would lose their jobs if poison from mining keeps spilling into lagoons."

Marbrook said it was widely believed that if the reef became a world heritage site it would help protect the ecology from mining.

According to the Corail Vivant website: "One hundred years of mineral exploitation - first by the Rothschild family, and then by the French state and Société Le Nickel, a subsidiary of the Eramet Group - have ruined the local people's social fabric, their health, and... it's official.. their environment."


Yvonne Sargayoos is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student from Canterbury University. She is on an internship with the Pacific Media Centre.

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