New Caledonia

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I was recently lucky enough to spend a year in New Caledonia working on Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales. We spent 3 weeks onboard a catamaran bobbing about 15 hours south of the southernmost point of land of New Caledonia looking for humpbacks on their migration back down to Antarctica. Drifting in the middle of the ocean ontop of a seamount which rises to only 50m below sea level is an amazing experience, especially when you are surrounded by whales breaching and tail-slapping all around you. Hundreds of whales congregate on this small seamount, presumably to feed or to have a last chance to breed.

Whilst in New Caledonia, I was blown away by the wildlife here, which in many ways shows similarities to New Zealand. You can see how not so long ago the two countries were joined together after they split off from Gondwana, the ancient supercontinent. The parakeets bear striking resemblances to kakariki, they too have flightless birds, fantails, araucarian pine trees, ponga ferns, and honeyeaters very similar in appearance to the Tui and Bellbird. It too suffers similar problems to New Zealand’s wildlife; extinction of  species due to the introduction of mammalian predators exacerbated by slow breeding times of native species.

However it is also very unique, and the numbers of species of both plants and animals is staggering. The vegetation is incredibly varied, with completely different forests being found on the west and east coasts. In the south, the land is dominated by a very unique low scrubby vegetation called the maquis minier, formed by the red soil with its high nickel content. It is one of the most beautiful places I have been lucky enough to travel to.

 


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