New Caledonia (Nouvelle-Calédonie), has a unique status between that of an independent country and a normal Overseas department of France. It is located in the subregion of Melanesia in the southwest Pacific Ocean, approximately 1,200 kilometres east of Australia and 1,500 kilometres northwest of New Zealand. It comprises a main island (Grande Terre), the Loyalty Islands, and several smaller islands. Approximately half the size of Taiwan, it has a land area of 18,575.5 square kilometres. The population was estimated in January 2009 to be 249,000. The capital and largest city of the territory is Nouméa.
Guest Photographer feature: “Discover New Caledonia through Richard Chesher’s Eyes.”
I built a darkroom in the cellar of our Scarsdale New York house in 1948 and absolutely loved the experience of seeing images slowly appearing in the tray of chemicals bathed in red light. It was like magic – a spell woven from the darkness by a precise ritual involving light and lenses and special instruments. Cameras became my magic wand and science my alchemy to transfer visions from mind to mind. My enchantment with camera technology kept me trying all sorts of systems. I used little tiny cameras, great big telescopic cameras, movie cameras and a range of camera formats from 35-mm to 8 X 10 inch large format cameras. I played with high speed photography, low light photography, and time lapse images. I even made my own cameras and lenses for special projects. In 1958 I began making underwater camera housings so I could take photos underwater. Photographs became a critical part of my career as a marine biologist. I especially enjoyed macro and microphotography, specimen photography, and what I called behavioural photography – images that showed the behaviour of creatures.
In November of 1966 my first underwater image was published in National Geographic magazine – a photo of two bluestriped grunts kissing on a reef in the Florida Keys. Although a succession of photo agents have sold my underwater images to encyclopedias, magazines and books, I never thought of myself as a professional photographer. I am a scientist, and for me cameras are tools of exploration and photographs are for illustration and documentation of scientific reports, publications and presentations. I like taking photographs, mind you, but they have to serve a purpose. My images have to live up to my childhood expectations of transferring a vision from mind to mind.
In 1975, following my investigation as chief scientist for the US Department of Interior on research into the Crown of Thorns starfish in the north Pacific and environmental studies in the Florida Keys, I embarked on an exploration of the South Pacific aboard the research vessel Moira. I realized then that the coral reefs of the world were in trouble and that doing anything about the problem was going to take some major shifts in our collective viewpoint about life on our planet.The report on the expedition of the Moira was a photographic exploration of “This Magic Sea” – a photo-essay on the evolution of life of our planet. A companion website/report provides information about ways to experience a more integrated view of life on Earth.
In 1984 I began a series of experiments in community science projects, aimed at changing the behaviour patterns of islanders towards their marine environment. During this same period I was a consultant to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, documenting the state of the environment in the South Pacific Islands and the environmental diagnostics for the islands of the South Pacific showed a continual decline in just about every parameter we could measure. The year 2000 was a crisis point for our global environment. The Small Island Developing States were hoping to initiate a program to develop 100% renewable energy economies; the first technological step in an attempt to remedy global warming. It was all looking good until the energy companies installed their champion in the White House and progress towards critical environmental reform was stalled for 8 years.
My wife and I decided to put our efforts into sustainable tourism development for Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Mostly because I thought it would be extremely worthwhile to put myself in front of the most beautiful views of our planet possible and take photos of them. Our new career as professional tourism photographers was very successful. Our travel guides are geographic information systems (much like Google Earth had become) designed as educational tools for travel agents. The Vanuatu Tourism Office distributed over 110, 000 copies of the Rocket Tourism Guide to Vanuatu to travel agencies around the world and the tourism office of New Caledonia distributed more than 60, 000 copies of the Rocket Tourism Guide to New Caledonia. They are now available online for anyone who wishes to travel to Vanuatu or New Caledonia. Our tourism photos have been published on hundreds of travel websites, magazines, posters, and billboards.
We set up on-line photo libraries with our tourism images of New Caledonia cultural and scenic highlights, New Caledonia Hotels and Resorts, and New Caledonia tours and diving activities plus VR Sphere Images of New Caledonia Hotels, places and activities. The Vanuatu travel guide has sphere images of Vanuatu plus over a thousand images of Vanuatu cultural and scenic highlights, Vanuatu accommodation, hotel and resort photos, and Vanuatu tours and diving.
We also created and publish the world’s most advanced cruising guides for cruising yachts and superyachts visiting Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The nautical guide to New Caledonia includes the world’s first underwater sphere images of the New Caledonia Lagoon The nautical cruising guide to Vanuatu provides images and information on all the Vanuatu islands and includes the first underwater sphere images. Sphere images, like those you see on arounder.com, are the leading edge of photography. I sometimes call them Memory Bubbles – a term invented by the writer John D. McDonald – because they allow you to visit a place and time and look all around just as if you were there yourself. This makes them the perfect mind-to-mind medium. And like the images slowly appearing in the darkroom magic of my youth, the process of taking and processing the images is enhanced by wizardry.
More about Richard can be found at: rocket-guides.com.
Since 1986 the United Nations Committee on Decolonization has included New Caledonia on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. New Caledonia is set to decide whether to remain within the French Republic as an autonomous overseas collectivity or become an independent state in a referendum to be held between 2014 and 2019.
Nouméa, the capital, is also the seat of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (formerly the South Pacific Commission), an international organization. In July 2010, New Caledonia adopted the Kanak flag, alongside the existing French tricolor, as the dual official flags of the territory. The adoption made New Caledonia one of the few countries or territories in the world with two official national flags.
New Caledonia is considered one of the world’s most critically endangered and botanically most important hotspots. Unlike many of the Pacific Islands, which are of relatively recent volcanic origin, New Caledonia is part of Zealandia, a fragment of the ancient Gondwana super-continent.
Zealandia separated from Australia 60–85 million years ago, and the ridge linking New Caledonia to New Zealand has been deeply submerged for millions of years. This isolated New Caledonia from the rest of the world’s landmasses, and made it a Noah’s Ark of sorts, preserving a snapshot of prehistoric Gondwanan forests.
The New Caledonia Barrier Reef, which surrounds Grande Terre and the Isle of Pines (Île des Pins), is the second-largest coral reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, reaching a length of 1,500 kilometres (930 mi). Like its terrestrial counterpart, the Caledonian reef system has great species diversity, is home to endangered dugongs (Dugong dugong), and is an important nesting site for the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas). The island is also a home for vagrant fur seals. The Nautilus is a living-fossil species, common during the age of the dinosaurs, which survives today in the waters surrounding New Caledonia.
In January 2002, the French government proposed listing New Caledonia’s reefs as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO listed New Caledonia Barrier Reef on the World Heritage List under the name The Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems on 7 July 2008.
More panoramas by Richard Chesher can be seen in Arounder New Caledonia , and for on-the-go browsing download Aroundertouch iPhone app. from the app store or by searching for “aroundertouch” in itunes.