Lagoons of New Caledonia (France)

Nicolas Pascal

Introduction

Ecosystems and beneficiaries

The World Heritage site "Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems" is located in the French Pacific Ocean archipelago of New Caledonia and consists of six marine clusters covering the total area of 1,574,300 ha. The site displays intact ecosystems, with healthy populations of top predators, and a large number and diversity of large fish (UNESCO, 2014k).

Local economy

Nearly 235 000 people have used or depended on one or more of the ecosystem services incorporated in the WHS, including:

  • Fishermen of the commercial artisanal fishery (350 professionals)
  • Local families for whom fishing in the coastal zones is a source of regular protein (2500 households) and non-regular revenues
  • Blue tourism entrepreneurs (120 businesses, 400 jobs for 180 000 visitors a year) whose businesses depend directly on the underwater landscape quality
  • Other related tourism businesses (1000 businesses and 1200 jobs) receiving the "blue" tourists.
  • Real estate owners protected from coastal flooding (8800 households)

Type of economic analysis undertaken

The study by Pascal (2010) estimates the economic value of different ecosystem services (commercial, recreational and subsistence fishing; nature-based tourism; protection from flooding and research and education) by using different valuation methods, such as producer surplus assessment, avoided damages and travel cost method. In addition to existing data, survey with users and interviews with experts were undertaken to collect additional data.

Main findings from the study

Coral reefs and associated ecosystems (mangroves and seagrass beds) absorb the wave energy and prevent or minimise damages due to flooding during cyclones. It has been estimated that around 8 800 households benefit from this protection service in the WHS sites. The total value of damage that is avoided by the presence of ecosystems is in the order of € 32M. When applying the frequency of cyclones, this corresponds to an annual value of € 7M. This figure means that every year, coral reefs and associated ecosystems prevent coastal flooding which generates damage to residential buildings, hotel infrastructure and equipment to the order of € 7M. The ecosystem service of protection against coastal flooding represents approximately 12% of total services provided by the ecosystems incorporated in the WHS sites.

Fisheries linked to coastal ecosystems generate annually an added value of € 15.5M for the local economy, of which an estimated €5 million are from self-consumption, € 7.5M from the commercial fishery and €3M from the recreational fishery. The importance of the non-commercial fishing relative to commercial fishing (declared and undeclared) reflects the socio-cultural context of the fishing activities (both recreational and subsistence).

The added value of this ecosystem service represents approximately 27% of the total of the services produced by the ecosystems of the WHS. Around 350 fishermen derive income from this activity and more than 2500 households extract additional income and important proteins for their well-being. In volume, coastal catches represent more than two thirds of the annual consumption of fresh fish of the households of New Caledonia.

The service of underwater scenic beauty for "blue" tourism represents an added value of €8.4M for the local economy (15% of the total of the services produced by the ecosystems of the WHS). Each year, approximately 180 000 visitors (both tourists and residents) make use of coral reefs under various forms of recreation (diving, snorkelling, charters, day-tours, etc.). These activities, which are dependent on the health of the marine ecosystems incorporated in the WHS, have generated benefits for more than 120 companies and produced almost 400 jobs. The nautical sector (boats brokering, marina, maintenance, etc.) represents nearly 30% of the value of this service.

This ecosystem service reflects an important use of the lagoon by the residents and tourists. These users contribute to the financial health of the 120 hotels, 100 guesthouses and other 800 tourism companies. It is estimated that more than 1400 jobs are related to these uses.

This value is growing and has good potential if the positioning of the site and coral reefs of New Caledonia becomes consolidated in the competitive market of underwater tourism. As highlighted in the co-management plans of the WHS, there needs to be a sustainable development of tourism in terms of impacts on the environment. Among other things, the treatment of wastewater from hotels, control of sediment inputs, and carrying capacity regulation must be taken into account.

General conclusions from the study

The study presents a comprehensive valuation of the different ecosystem services provided by the site. The main services in economic terms are the biomass production from the commercial, subsistence and recreational fishery (€15.5 M/year) as well as the service of underwater scenic beauty for the 'blue' tourism (€8.4 M/year), followed by the protection against coastal flooding (€7 M/year). However, the study also mentions that many aspects of these services, particularly subsistence fishing cannot be reflected through the monetary approach:

  • It is an activity that is difficult to substitute, due to a low level of initial investment and minimal required training.
  • It is a source of food and income for the women living in the tribes. The degree of dependence on the resource depends on the household and its proximity to urban centres. This aspect contributes to the continued presence of women in the villages, which has been recognized as a factor of social cohesion.

Fishing is a stable source of food and a protection against uncertainties of the future or other sectors (e.g. tourism).