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Associations and management committees are taking part in UNESCO's eDNA campaign in the Lagoons of New Caledonia (France)

Wednesday, 1 March 2023
access_time 3 min read
Associations and management committees join UNESCO environmental DNA sampling in the Lagoons of New Caledonia, France. © Christine Fort - DAFE

Throughout March 2023, members of New Caledonia's World Heritage site associations and management committees joined the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) and the New Caledonian Biodiversity Agency (ANCB) to take part in UNESCO's environmental DNA sampling campaign, as part of a global effort to sample and reference marine biodiversity in 25 marine World Heritage sites.

Samples were collected from the West Coastal Zone, the North-East Coastal Zone, the Entrecasteaux atolls, the Great South Lagoon, and the Great North Lagoon. In total 19 seawater samples - an average of 4 per identified zone - were taken and sent for analysis to the UNESCO-commissioned laboratory.

While in the areas of the Southern Province (West Coastal Zone and Great South Lagoon) the sampling was carried out by rangers, in other areas of the Lagoons of New Caledonia the sampling was conducted by the local population (members of associations and management committees). On 1 March, for example, despite a big swell, two motorboats left the shore at Pouébo with volunteers on board, heading for the reef where the sampling was to take place. All the volunteers received half a day's training beforehand, which enabled them to take part while being made aware of the importance of protecting the "Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems" site, of which all six zones were involved in the UNESCO eDNA sampling initiative. All the sampling expeditions were coordinated locally by scientific experts from the IRD and the New Caledonian Biodiversity Agency.

"Its thanks to technology that we have the ability to find rare organisms. I hope that this promising technology which we use in our programmes at the IRD will become a common technique for monitoring the environment."

Environmental DNA is an innovative scientific method that can be used to monitor and evaluate ocean biodiversity without the need to extract organisms from their environment. Just one liter of water may contain genetic material from hundreds of species and may help determine the area’s biodiversity richness.

The UNESCO environmental DNA Expedition initiative is being rolled out across 25 marine World Heritage sites between September 2022 and April 2023. The eDNA data is expected to provide a one-off snapshot of biodiversity richness across marine World Heritage sites, particularly for fish species.

By combining the resulting biodiversity data with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) heat scenario projections, the initiative aims to provide a first glimpse of potential geographic and distribution shifts of fish species as a result of climate change which then in turn can inform conservation decision-making.

The eDNA Expeditions’ resulting data will be made publicly available through the UNESCO Ocean Biodiversity Information System, the world’s largest open science marine species database. Final results are expected to be available in Spring 2024.

The UNESCO eDNA initiative is a joint collaboration between the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the World Heritage Centre. It is made possible with the support of the Government of Flanders (Kingdom of Belgium) and implemented in the context of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).

About the Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems World Heritage Site (France)

The Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2008. The site comprises six marine clusters that represent the main diversity of coral reefs and associated ecosystems in the French Pacific Ocean archipelago of New Caledonia and one of the three most extensive reef systems in the world. New Caledonia's lagoons and coral reefs are home to intact ecosystems with exceptional marine biodiversity, including healthy populations of top predators, and provide habitat for several emblematic or endangered marine species, such as turtles, whales and dugongs.

The ANCB is responsible for coordinating the management of the entire New Caledonian property.