British explorer Captain James Cook was the first European to sight New Caledonia, in 1774, during his second voyage. He named it “New Caledonia”, as the north-east of the island reminded him of Scotland. Today it is a French overseas territory.
New Caledonia is part of Zealandia, a fragment of the ancient Gondwana super-continent. It separated from Australia roughly 66 million years ago, subsequently drifting in a north-easterly direction and reaching its present position about 50 million years ago.
New Caledonia has many unique taxa, especially birds and plants with a variety of niches, landforms and micro-climates where endemic species thrive. It has the richest bio-diversity in the world per square kilometer. Not only species, but the entire genera and even families are unique to the islands, and survive nowhere else. It is surrounded by the world’s second largest and basically untouched coral reef.
In 1864, nickel was discovered and with the establishment of the Société Le Nickel in 1876, mining began. New Caledonian soils contain about 25% of the world’s nickel resources and Société Le Nickel still has a huge share in the country’s GDP. Extensive nickel exploitation is an enormous ecological risk to the fragile environment, but at the same time, it is the main source to the island’s thriving economy, so the country is torn between these two treasures: nickel ore and the most fascinating biodiversity on the planet.