Featured UNESCO World Heritage Site of January: Lagoons of New Caledonia

With all of the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites, this month we’re taking a closer look at one of the most diverse and beautiful coral reef systems in the world, found in the lagoons of New Caledonia, a special territory of France. Located in the South Pacific and just west of Australia, a trip to the lagoons would make a perfect excursion for travelers headed to Fiji or New Zealand.

There are many factors that contribute to the importance of New Caledonia’s barrier reef, but one of the most crucial is the wide variety of exotic and endangered sea life that calls this area home. The green sea turtle, which can be found in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, nests in these reefs. Another endangered species that inhabits the lagoons is the dugong. This sea mammal is close to extinction after years of being hunted for oil and meat, but luckily has found a safe haven in this protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Aesthetically, the New Caledonia reef system is one of the most striking and complex in the entire ocean. Its many species of coral come in a variety of shapes and sizes and form arches, caves, and other large structures below the ocean’s surface. It is one of the top three most extensive reef systems in the world, along with the Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea Coral Reef, and the fact that it is a free-standing reef makes it entirely unique. Believe it or not, it has more diversity in both and coral and fish than even Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

France’s government proposed that the New Caledonia Barrier Reef be made a UNESCO World Heritage in 2002 and six years later, in July of 2008, the territory was officially listed as the Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems. As complex as it is beautiful, it’s easy to see why the lagoons of New Caledonia were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

By the way, what is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This group has a UNESCO World Heritage Committee which is tasked with maintaining a list of destinations and places that are culturally or physically significant. The organization also keeps a list of at-risk sites which are sites whose conditions are starting to threaten the basis of why the site was included on the list in the first place. The purpose is to keep the local community informed so that they can take preventative action. The mission of UNESCO as a whole is to assist in ending world poverty, create peace, and use science, culture, information, and communication to establish an intercultural dialogue.

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