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SPC Website, 31st October 2018

 

Seven hundred years. That’s the time the Mont-Dore forest in New Caledonia will need to regenerate, after a bush fire destroyed most of it last year.

Fire is part of natural regulation of forest ecosystems. Since forever, it is also part of the relationship between men and forests. A study commissioned by WWF in New Caledonia showed that Kanak communities have at least 25 uses for fire, from stubble-burning to fighting pests to communication to hunding to symbolic uses.

Melanesians were not the only ones using fire. Miners and early farmers did too. But in recent years, bush fires grew to alarming levels. Fires go faster and further, and they threaten unique ecosystems. Red and black soils in mining districts of Southern New Caledonia have extremely high cobalt, manganese, chrome and nickel levels that would kill most plants – those that thrive are mostly endemic.

“Some of those bushes grow a centimetre every second year, and there is only a few specimens in the entire world”, says Dr Yannick Dominique, who works with the Pacific Community in coordinating the RESCCUE project.

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New Caledonia