From 20 February to 3 March 2011, an IUCN monitoring mission visited the property, as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008). The mission was requested to follow up on some of the recommendations made by the Committee at the time of inscription. The mission report is available online at the following web address:http://whc.unesco.org/en/sessions/35COM. The mission assessed progress in the implementation of co-management plans, the enforcement of newly adapted fisheries regulations and the environmental performance and impact of mining activities in the buffer zones of the serial property. No report on the state of conservation of the property was requested by the Committee.
a) Co-management and zoning
The mission notes that co-management committees have been established for most components or their subzones. However, so far only one of these co-management committees has finalized its management plan. The mission reports that the main weaknesses of some of the existing co-management committees relate to their limited capacity and resources to enforce fisheries and water quality regulations and to respond to incursions. A general challenge to the management of the property is the on-going evolution of governance arrangements and specific regulations, legislation and customary management practices. Since the inscription of the property, new protected areas have been designated, and increased levels of protection for other areas within the property are being discussed with the various co-management committees. Areas under Kanak customary tenure, which are subject to traditional management regimes, have been mapped in many areas, with taboo areas providing a key focus for the designation of a zoning scheme for the property. The mission notes that, besides areas designated as marine reserves, no-take zones have not yet been officially designated. Traditional Kanak taboo areas are not necessarily strict no-take zones, but may be seasonal or species specific no-take zones. The boundaries of the property and regulations are communicated to all users through marine charts and maps available online, in public places and through the tide tables available from municipalities and at all large boat docking/ anchoring areas.
The mission recommends that the members of co-management committees should receive technical, financial and administrative support for the implementation of relevant decisions and recommendations and the enforcement of legislations. It considers that the State Party and in particular the authorities in New Caledonia should facilitate the finalization and implementation of the co-management plans, and evaluate effectiveness of participatory governance and management responsiveness, including enforcement of regulations. The mission also recommends that the authorities in New Caledonia strengthen effective coordination and communication between all stakeholders, particularly co-management committees and their members. The establishment of a Conservatory of Natural Spaces (CEN – Conservatoire des Espaces Naturells), which was under consideration at the time of the mission and which will include representatives from all levels of elected government, customary groups and NGOs, is expected to address this recommendation and enhance coordinated management of the entire serial property, in accordance with Paragraph 114 of the Operational Guidelines.
b) Monitoring and fisheries regulations
The mission notes that since the property’s inscription many efforts have been made to increase knowledge of the baseline status of the property, develop indicators and increase monitoring, surveillance and enforcement of regulations. It reports that the capacity to do so is limited in the more remote components of the property, but that customary management practices in these components are strong, and that commercial fishermen contribute to monitoring activities. The newly adopted fisheries regulations impose catch limits, fishing gear restrictions, species specific or seasonal closures and recognise species specific taboo areas. However, the mission notes that fisheries knowledge is mostly limited to reporting of registered commercial vessels and most accurate for export species. It also notes that efforts are underway to increase understanding of the recreational and subsistence fisheries, which some studies suggest are larger than the commercial fisheries in terms of total catch. In Province Sud, which has responsibility of two components of the serial property, the multi-stakeholder environmental observatory OEIL contributes to research, surveillance and information dissemination. The mission recommends that similar facilities should be available for the property as a whole. It considers that monitoring indicators, which are currently mostly ecological, should address all aspects of management effectiveness, including participatory management and management responsiveness.
c) Environmental performance and impact of mining activities
The mission reports that current mining activities in the vicinity of the property could potentially impact three of the six components of the serial property. Since the inscription of the property the marine and terrestrial buffer zones of the Grand Lagon Sud component were subject to two pollution events related to nickel mining activities. It notes that monitoring by the mining company, OEIL and the independent research organization IRD, indicate that the affected areas are recovering from these pollution events. Since the property’s inscription, mining regulations and practices have been developed and implemented to increase environmental performance and reduce risks to the property. It notes that the New Caledonian Mining Code prescribes mitigation measures to mitigate the impacts of mining activities, and that abandoned mines are being restored using indigenous plant species. Some mining companies, such as SLN and Vale INCO, are members of co-management committees.
The mission notes that permits have been granted to a mining company GEOVIC to explore for cobalt in mineral sands, which are largely located in coastal and estuarine areas and vulnerable river banks. According to information on the Web (http://www.eplp.asso.nc/site/?p=2351), some of the exploration licenses are close to the Zone Côtière Ouest and Grand Lagon Sud (particularly the Aiguille de Prony) components of the property. A number of NGOs have raised concerns about the risks that these exploration activities could pose to the property as a result of increased sediment transport, release of heavy metals and reduced water quality.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that exploration and mining of cobalt in mineral sands adjacent to the property could have significant adverse impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. They recall that, in line with the policy statement by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), no mining activities should be allowed adjacent to World Heritage properties if these affect a property’s Outstanding Universal Value. They recommend that the Committee request the State Party to submit Environmental Impact Assessments for these proposals to the World Heritage Centre prior to taking a decision on whether to permit these activities, in accordance with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines.
d) Other conservation issues – water quality, visitor management and climate change
The mission notes that some areas in the marine and terrestrial buffer zones of the property are affected by high turbidity and elevated rates of sediment deposition in rivers, estuaries and coastal areas. Co-management committees and NGOs have raised concerns that small parts of the property are also affected. The rehabilitation of abandoned mines and the revegetation of watersheds help to address these concerns.
The mission further notes that the property would benefit from local level consideration of climate change mitigation and adaptation needs given the vulnerability of coral reefs and coastal communities to climate change. It recommends that the State Party ensure that the Provinces and co-management committees have adequate resources and capacity to incorporate appropriate climate change considerations in the management of the property with particular attention to planning, monitoring and disaster risk reduction.