(30 September 2002 — Honolulu) Close to 1,000 protestors took to the streets of Kanaky/New Caledonia last week demanding withdrawal of a permit tripling the amount of nickel mining by Inco, a Canadian mining operation notorious for environmental problems and conflicts with indigenous communities in Canada and Indonesia. The protests by indigenous Kanaks, environmentalists, political parties, women’s organizations and small businesses were the second large-scale actions in less than a month on the island, whose population numbers only 200,000.
“Investors and public financial institutions should understand the extraordinary degree of risk associated with Inco’s New Caledonia plans,” said Environmental Defense scientist Stephanie Gorson Fried. “French, Australian, American and Canadian contractors are poised to begin constructing the $1.4 billion Inco nickel-cobalt mining facility using an unproven, dangerous pressure acid leach technology in an area adjacent to fragile reef systems proposed for nomination as a World Heritage Site.”
Protestors in this isolated French overseas territory have also heavily criticized the French government’s recent announcement that it planned to withdraw its January 2002 request for UNESCO World Heritage Site protection for the Kanaky/New Caledonia reef ecosystem - the second largest barrier reef system in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In August, 2002, shortly after a Paris visit by New Caledonia strongman and Governor of the Southern Province Jacques Lafleur, France’s new Environment Minister, Roseline Bachelot, announced she would ensure protection of Kanaky reefs by working with international mining companies instead of seeking World Heritage designation
“With the on-going stoppage of Inco’s construction work, this scale of protest activity, unusual in this territory still recovering from a mid-1980’s civil war, represents a direct threat to ongoing efforts by Inco, Falconbridge and other mines to secure financial backing and political risk insurance,” said Fried
New Caledonia, also called Kanaky, is a territory of France. The area has been identified by the prestigious British journal Nature as one of the world’s top “biodiversity hotspots;” over 76% of the country’s plant species are endemic and are found nowhere else on Earth. Surrounding the world’s largest lagoon, the New Caledonia/Kanaky reef system occupies close to 10 million acres or over 40,000 km2. New Caledonia researchers are continually discovering marine species previously unknown to science in these rich waters.