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New Caledonia - Enviornment

New Caledonia Environment

New Caledonia's main island, Grande Terre ('Big Land'), is an off-centre streak of dirt and nickel parked in a turquoise sea, like the arm of a clock stopped eternally at 10 am. Unlike its near neighbours, Vanuatu and the Solomons, which are composed of scores of islands, New Caledonia has comparatively few. What you see - Grande Terre, the Loyalty Islands, Île des Pins, the tiny Îles Belep and a few scattered reefs and volcanic islets - is what you get. The dry land in New Caledonia is slightly larger than Wales, a little smaller than the US state of New Jersey. Grande Terre is divided by a central mountain range, with foggy, dense, wet forests high up and a lush, wild east coast that's seen less European settlement than the west. The west lies in a rain shadow and is consequently much drier, and its windy coastal plains have suffered the worst depredations of the mining and grazing industries. Around 80% of New Caledonia has been cleared of its original forest cover to make way for mining and grazing, and a lot of subsistence agriculture is rolling over for larger-scale export crops such as avocados, rice, oranges and pineapples.

Like many islands, New Caledonia has a high rate of endemic flora (around 80%) and fauna (roughly 30%). The central mountain range on Grande Terre has created numerous microclimates and separated pockets of terrain in which plants and animals have specialised since Noah was in short trousers, or at least since the islands were part of prehistoric Gondwanaland. Three types of reserves exist - nature reserves, special botanical or fauna reserves and one territorial park - and the level of protection in each type of park varies. Currently, 52,000 hectares (130,910 acres) of marine area are protected.

The islands sit on the edge of the tropics, and the weather varies little, with mild, spring-like conditions for most of the year, tempered by the ocean. The biggest variation is from mid-November to mid-April, when it is warm and humid, as opposed to 'winter', from July to August, which is spring-like. Average maximum temperatures vary from 22°C to 28°C (71°F to 82°F). The cyclone season runs from December to March, but woolly weather can show up for a month on either side of that. Generally, though, the seasons alter little, and even the number of daylight hours is stable, from 6 am to 6 pm year-round.

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