New Caledonia recycles: Nearly 100 tons collected in 6 months

The following article is a translation of the original article printed in Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes, 14 July 2014. I was encouraged by this news and had to share it with you. For those of you who live in countries that have been recycling for years already, know that recycling is very new in New Caledonia.

Photo by Antoine Pecquet, LNC

Photo by Antoine Pecquet, LNC

Installed in December 2013, the 32 voluntary collection points have reached their first evaluation period. The municipality is satisfied with the collection of paper and aluminum in particular. The CaledoClean Association is less enthusiastic.

After 6 months in operation, the city of Nouméa sees its voluntary collection points more than half full. “Depending on the neighborhood, the points vary between 50% to 90% full,” says Françoise Suvé, responsible for the environment. As a reminder, each collection point has two columns. One collects newspapers and magazines, the other aluminum cans.  The programme cost 22 million CFP (€184,360 or AUD 265,472) and  its operating costs per year is estimated at 12 million CFP (€100,560 or AUD 144,802). In 6 months, Nouméens have thrown away nearly 100 tons of recyclable waste, collected by Pacific Star and processed by CSP Fidelio, under the responsibility of the Intercommunal Association of Greater Nouméa. For the CaledoClean Association, which argues in favour of a more environmentally responsible company, it’s better late than never. “The collection points represent progress,” observed Bizien Thibaut, President of CaledoClean, “but with a huge delay in the local aluminum recycling industry, which is 20 years old.” The ecologist also points to the limitation of the programme to just paper and aluminum. “Fortunately, private initiatives have already been taken, like collecting plastic bottle caps by the Association for the Protection of Nature in New Caledonia (ASNNC), and used batteries by Trecodec.”

Contributions. Even though the programme has had a variable success rate depending on neighbourhood, the city dismisses the idea that ecologically responsible behavior is related to soci0-economic background. “People are participating in Ducos and Riviere Salee as much as they are in southern Noumea,” says David Boyer, Head of the Urban Cleanliness. “We need to refine the results,” says Françoise Suvé, “to determine why some collection points work better than others.” Among the possible explanations, good habits are already in place. “Where the SIC have already established collection points, as in Tuband, people will contribute less to our collection points,” thinks Ms. Suvé. With regard to public incivility, despite three fires and graffiti, Noumea is far from the fiasco seen in Paita, where test collection points had to be removed after being turned into dumps. “Our officers check the collection points each morning. If there is garbage within 15 meters, it is removed. And we have a person responsible for the anti-graffiti campaign on the collection points. We allow no damage to get installed or remain,” says David Boyer.

Bins. For the moment, there are no plans to increase the number of collection points in Nouméa. However, new additional paper and aluminum collection points will be installed at 2 new landfills, promised to open in September, at Magenta and 6eme Kilometre. Co-financed by the city, ADEME and the Southern Province, the equipment will be modeled on the collection points at Ducos and managed, as those are, by CSP Fidelio and will receive all non-household waste. By investing more than 100 million CFP (€838,000 or AUD 1,206,689), the city hopes to improve its environmental protection. Nevertheless, for CaledoClean, the landfills will not solve everything. “Noumea lacks, above all, simple bins in public places,” laments Thibaut Bizien.

Fort Tereka: A worthy excursion

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

June is a beautiful month in New Caledonia. The light sparkles and the temperatures dip slightly to highs of low- to mid-20s (Centigrade). Though we love to get out, we’ve been bound to Nouméa with a broken-down car on the one hand and a new series of positive discipline classes on the other (a very exciting development!). Busy as we’ve been with activities, the 2014 World Cup, preparing classes and school holidays, we were happy to get out to Nouville yesterday and up into nature for the day.

I’ve written about Fort Tereka in the past, but I just wanted to share it briefly again with you. It has become one of our favourite, easy-to-do outings – with just a short walk up to the top of the hill overlooking Kuendu Beach. You can find more about how to get there here. I always recommend walking up, taking a picnic, and enjoying some time up there with the views – of the expanse of blues, the outlying islands, the sailboats and the parachutes.

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

For those who love or who are just discovering geocaching, there is also a relatively easy-to-find geocache, which is a great way to get the kids out and exploring. They may complain a little about walking up, but it will be well worth the walk up. Take along something to leave behind and a pen, along with your GPS or a phone with the app on it. You won’t be disappointed!

There is also a cave to walk through to the other side (take a torch or a phone with a strong flashlight), cannons and small holding areas or cells to explore. How in the world this was built in 1878 is a mystery to me, but intact it remains. A real treasure for anyone interested in history or the Clash of Clans.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

If you walk up, you’ll really enjoy the walk down through the forest. There are several paths down (we discovered the Sentier des Legendes on this last trip, quite by mistake) and they are more than do-able for people of all ages. The pedagogical walk is well sign-posted (Sentier pedagogique), is fun for kids and is shaded (as opposed to the walk up, which requires hats and sun screen).

It’s probably 20-30 minutes up, depending on how quickly you walk and 30-60 minutes down (again, depending on how quickly you walk). I always take a camera, a phone and lots of water.

Every time I come back, I feel refreshed and nourished again. So close to Nouméa, and yet so far away in spirit, I really do recommend it for an afternoon, morning or both!

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Protesters burn vehicles, buildings at New Caledonia nickel mine

The article below is reproduced in its entirety from 

Readers will find a short update on the situation further below. Photos courtesy of Les Nouvelles caledoniennes.

Protesters burn vehicles, buildings at New Caledonia nickel mine

By Cecile Lefort and Melanie Burton  | Reuters – Tue, May 27, 2014

Photo Thierry Perron, LNC

Photo Thierry Perron, LNC

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Rioters torched vehicles, equipment and buildings at Vale’s nickel mine in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia over the weekend, as anger boiled over about a chemical spill in a local river.

The $6 billion Vale plant at Goro in southern New Caledonia was closed earlier this month after some 100,000 litres of acid-tainted effluent leaked, killing about 1,000 fish and sparking renewed protests at the mine site.

The Vale plant has a production target of 60,000 tonnes of nickel at full capacity, compared with global supply of around 2 million tonnes. But it has been beset by problems in recent years, including several chemical spills and violent protests.

Tensions between the local population and Vale escalated over the weekend with young protesters frustrated at the latest spill by the Brazilian-based giant and a lack of response from indigenous Kanak chiefs, according to local media. Television footage showed images of burnt mining vehicles and equipment.

“There was damage at the site, but no damage to the plant. We had burned vehicles, one administration building was damaged, but no damage to the plant itself,” Vale spokesman Cory McPhee told Reuters.

Peter Poppinga, an executive director at Vale, told Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes newspaper that damage to the mining site was estimated at at least $20 million to $30 million, including the destruction of perhaps one third of the truck fleet.

“If there is no activity for several months, we will shut the plant, but that’s not the case. The closing of the plant is not on the table,” Poppinga was quoted as saying.

The scale of the damage could not immediately be independently verified.

Nickel mining is a key industry in New Caledonia, which holds as much as a quarter of the world’s known reserves. Vale’s plant is the second-largest employer in the southern province, with some 3,500 employees and contractors, including a large number of Filipino workers.


New Caledonia’s southern provincial government ordered an immediate halt to operations after the spill earlier this month and started legal proceedings under its environmental code.

The local government, which changed leadership last week, said it would not lift the production suspension until safety procedures were revised, an oversight committee was reinstated and an independent expert’s report was completed.

“We got to this point because, clearly, part of the local youth, particularly from the southern tribes, reject the perspective of maintaining the plant in activity, even with the reinforcement of safety procedures,” Philippe Michel, the newly elected president of New Caledonia’s Southern Province, told local television on Monday.

Global nickel prices hit a 27-month high earlier this month and are up by about 40 percent this year, driven by a decision by Indonesia to halt exports of raw nickel ores and news of the Goro closure. Indonesia’s ban left nickel buyers in China and Japan scrambling to secure supplies amid a fear of shortages.

“Vale’s got lots of issues in the country,” said Tom Price, a mining analyst at UBS in Sydney. “Nickel has recovered back to the marginal cost of production. It’s inviting for them to continue to invest, but it’s been a world of pain for them for quite a few years.”

Given market expectations of Goro production of just 15,000-20,000 tonnes this year, any impact on nickel prices from the closure would be sentiment driven, Price added. LME nickel prices rose 0.7 percent to $19,745 a tonne on Tuesday.

The Goro mine produced 4,100 tonnes of nickel in the first quarter, up 41 percent on a year ago. Vale is the world’s second-biggest nickel producer, but Goro made up just 6 percent of its nickel output in the first quarter.

The mine employs high pressure technology and acids to leach nickel from abundant tropical laterite ores.

“There is an inherent risk in Goro’s type of operation,” said Gavin Mudd, a professor of environmental engineering at Monash University in Melbourne.

(Additional reporting by James Regan; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Richard Pullin)


Photo Jacquotte Samperez, LNC

Photo Jacquotte Samperez, LNC

Further update: What this article does not mention is the 150 police officers involved last weekend in the removal of barricades, which resulted in 1 police officer being shot. On Tuesday, a further 2 officers were shot and wounded and 16 people arrested. The problem seems to arise from some 100 youth that are blocking the road, throwing rocks, firing shots and burning vehicles (as late as Monday evening). The people of Mont Dore (who are locked in due to the road blocks, and to their minds, “have been taken hostage”) demonstrated yesterday, demanding more information on police plans and greater security. As for the 1,350 Goro employees, nothing is certain for the moment. Some 12 million francs (about €100,000 or AUD 147,000) a day is said to be the cost of the partial unemployment payments that are going out to employees via the CAFAT (social security) system. Job loss and part-time employment are in the air as we wait to see if Vale will reopen. Gas that is normally imported for the trucks used at Goro is stocking up and Total is trying to find a way to sell it to other clients. The knock-on effect as the plant stays closed and the one southern road is blocked is greater than just a few unhappy people. One hopes for a fast and effective resolution, before it all spirals out of hand. That being said, it feels very much like a spiral already.

If you’d like to read the latest in French, do see Les Nouvelles caledoniennes. If you have news that you’d like to share with me and readers here, do post your comments. Hoping everyone stays safe and that the situation gets resolved quickly.

Elections, an acid leak and Poindimié

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

It’s been a busy few weeks in New Caledonia.

Sunday saw the provincial elections much of Caledonia has been waiting for, resulting in 29 seats going to anti-independence leaders and 25 seats to the pro-independence leaders, narrowing the gap between those for and against independence for New Caledonia (you can see the full results from the election here in French). Next we will see if the 54-member Congress will see the three-fifths majority it needs to issue the first of three public independence (self-determination) referendums in the coming months.

Last Wednesday, the Vale nickel mine located in the south (Goro) had an acid leak (110,000 litres of effluent, some of it containing acid), the 6th in 5 years. Bad enough to close the plant and raise local tempers, we are waiting to hear what happens next. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) New Caledonia has said that risk management at the plant seriously needs to be addressed or the plant should be closed down; the area may not survive a 7th accident. Since the weekend, local residents have blocked access to the plant and are calling for its definitive closure. Kanak chiefs from the south were meeting about the matter today.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

In the middle of all this, we travelled up to the north-eastern coast of New Caledonia – to Poindimié. Cut off from the rest of the world, apart from public wifi access near the Reception at Hotel Tieti, it was next to impossible to know what was happening more than 10 metres ahead of us. This was our first visit to Poindimié and I have to say it was our best stay up north yet. Personally, I love the north and like to go up there as often as we can. I have enjoyed Hienghene and Poum and will most likely return to Poindimié again now that we had such a great experience there.

What did we like about it?

  • Just over 4 short hours outside Nouméa, and we feel like we’re in the Back of Beyond. With only 3 hours up to Koné and then 1 hour and 10 minutes across to the east coast through the mountains, the trip was more manageable than making the trek up further to Poum or to Hienghene. It actually felt quite quick!
  • The beach bungalows at Hotel Tieti are large, modern, clean and beautiful, with large terraces overlooking the lagoon. Complete with a shower and full bath, we felt we were in the lap of luxury itself. To us, Hotel Tieti was hands-down the best northern New Caledonia hotel yet.
  • Our meals were copious, a full, hot breakfast was included in the price of the room, and in our case, service was fast and pleasant.
  • The beaches in front of the Hotel Tieti are long, quiet and empty (even on a long weekend – though I’ve been told they are slightly busier in January and February, during the high season).
  • A 5-minute boat ride separates you and Ilot Tibarama, where you can dive and snorkel in what seems a tropical fish aquarium. A tiny isle, you can spend all morning there or part of the afternoon. We opted for the afternoon as a 7:30 departure felt a little too early.
  • In addition to diving and all-morning snorkeling outings with Tieti Diving (including a diving initiation for children 8 and up), you can also hike, hire guides, visit Kanak lands and the tribes and learn more about the region.
  • With such close proximity to the lagoon, we heard nothing but the crashing of waves at night.
  • Plenty to explore, quiet to enjoy, Poindimié was the perfect combination of activity and relaxation.

For those of you who are not familiar with, there are constant deals on the Hotel Tieti listed there  (an example of 1 night free for 1 night paid here, good through 30 June), which makes a drive up north definitely worth considering. If you end up going, or have been to Poindimié and would like to share your thoughts, please do. I’d love to hear from you!

Ilot Tibarama 2

Arson in Nouméa: An Anse Vata icon burned and broken

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

“The faré (hut) is burning!”

“No! They were just re-roofing it yesterday. It was almost done. It looked great!”

“Why would it be on fire? Is it the sun, with the fresh straw? Did someone use a magnifying glass? Was it just too hot?”

Such went our first 3-way conversation about the burning hut, an icon on Anse Vata here in Nouméa, last Saturday. The roads were closed off, smoke was billowing out of the top of the faré and none of us could understand what was happening.

It is said to have started at approximately 5am Saturday (19 April) morning. It burned all day and took a full team of firefighters to work through the day to put it out. The hut houses a newly opened water sports activity centre (MD Plaisirs) and is just above the yellow taxi boat service to Ile aux Canards and Ilot Maitre. Luckily no one was injured, though the inventory inside the hut was destroyed, along with refrigerators and freezers in the lower level.

When we spoke with locals along Anse Vata on Saturday, they fell on a continuum between disappointed and disgusted. The hut was a symbol, somehow, for many of us. You couldn’t walk along Anse Vata and not know where the faré was. We used it as a meeting spot, we remembered when it was a tourist office, and others take kite-surfing classes there. It was just a part of anyone who spent time running, walking, windsurfing, swimming, doing stand-up paddle or picnicking at Anse Vata. How could it be alight?

Locals told us a group of youth were spotted around the faré early that morning, after the clubs had let out. Police are apparently following up a number of leads, including some camera footage. An employee told me he and his colleagues had smelled gasoline in and around the faré in the few days leading up to the fire, and they had wondered what was up. They don’t know if there was a link, or if the fire had been premeditated. Some say it must have been – it was carried out in the early hours of the morning, the fire was lit from behind the street (on the side overlooking the lagoon), where the perpetrators could not be seen. Apparently they would have had to climb the faré to set it afire, etc. But we all await the police findings.

Photo JH

Photo JH

This wasn’t the first time someone had tried to burn down the faré. It happened in 1999 and 2003. With the end of school holidays and a general rise in vandalism and car theft, I suppose we should not be surprised by this act of disrespect for the community, for the work of the roofers, and for what the faré means to many.

But did the persons who did this think about the longer term consequences? It’s meant that 1 or possibly 2 employees will lose their jobs, with the loss of the stock, less work for them to do, and a significant financial hit (2-3 million francs CFP in inventory)  to the centre. Speaking with 1 such employee, he said, “It would be one thing if I were being let go because I wasn’t good at my job, but this …  This forces me to go and it’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong. I understand if they have to let me go, I really do. But it’s not fair, somehow. Someone had a good time playing a trick, and I have to try to find another job.”

And as for the workers who spent a week re-roofing in the hot sun, their work was for nothing. A local said it cost in the neighbourhood of 3-4 million Pacific francs to restore the faré’s roof that week, between the labour and the materials. Half insured by the town hall and half by the centre, no one knows when it will be repaired.

A number of my friends who now live abroad wrote to say it was sad to see this happen. I agree. It’s sad and disappointing. My question is, as always, what are we going to do about it?

Overcoming shark fear in Happy New Caledonia

Juggling Cat in the HatHow do you spend your Saturday mornings? Cleaning? Sleeping in? Shopping for the week’s groceries? Or walk-dancing, happy-dancing (see below), speed-walking or windsurfing?

Of late, we’ve been spending our Saturday mornings watching our 7-year-old son windsurf with a great windsurfing school (Aloha Wind Surfing, who I’ve mentioned before). Pablo is the youngest and the smallest, and recently, perhaps the most concerned about sharks. Shark concern is not uncommon in children his age (or in adults of any age), but it has been exacerbated by an attack that occurred in Nouméa about 10 days ago, which left a 42-year-old kitesurfer with a 25 centimetre gash in his calf, alive, not kicking.

Unfortunately, the attack took place not too far away from where Pablo windsurfs at Anse Vata. His first time out after the attack, he was deeply concerned and did not feel comfortable windsurfing into deeper, darker waters (where he couldn’t see what was underneath his board). He came back crying, unable to continue. Though the instructor could see he was afraid, he wasn’t able to help him overcome his fear and frustration mounted on both sides.

This week, Pablo did not want to go back – and was adamant. His fear and trepidation was bigger than his capacity of manage “the worst that can happen – I’ll be attacked by a shark, but he’ll spit me out because I’m little and not very tasty”. Talking him down from the edge was no easy task.

When we got to his lesson, we explained to the staff at Aloha that Pablo was deeply afraid of sharks, which they had understood. As children are sensitive to raised voices and frustration, we suggested that maybe it would be best to avoid yelling. To the team’s immense credit, they suggested that maybe Pablo would like to go out in the boat today, and help the instructor. This suggestion brought a huge smile to Pablo’s face! They got him an oar, jokingly, so that he could swat any enemies, and got him laughing.

Photo by Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo by Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

Suffice it to say, Pablo had a great time flying around in the boat, as he called it, rushing off at top speed with the “maitre” (instructor) to help other windsurfing students. He also went out with the maitre on a 2-metre sail and came back beaming. He did it! He’d gone out and there were no sharks. He’d had so much fun – and will be so much more likely to windsurf his next class. He then helped unscrew the bits on the boards and to clean up – involved in the behind-the-scenes work involved in windsurfing. Helping his other classmates, bringing their boards in, Pablo learned more than just windsurfing that day.

Photo by Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

So, hats off to Aloha and hats off to New Caledonia, where even we can join the masses and be “Happy” along with Pharrell Williams, sharks and all!

Island life

New Caledonia

Photo JH

It’s taken years, literally years, for me to get it. With a recent trip to New Zealand, thus leaving New Caledonia for the first time in 9 months – and with a recent study of the differences between island and mainland life – something clicked.

I’m guilty.

I’m guilty of projecting my mainland life onto my requests of island life. Dreams of choice, good prices, efficiency in government and administration; dreams of vision, order, healthy competition, a commitment to excellence. All those dreams frustrated on a regular basis that send me snorkeling, hiking, swimming to remember what I love most about island life.

When we arrived in New Zealand, it was “Christmas”, as our son termed it. Life was suddenly easy, possible, friendly, pleasant, wonderfully full. Gone were the complications in trying to book an excursion, or to find out what we would need for an excursion. Gone were the closed offices, the non-existent websites, the people whose job it wasn’t was. Here, suddenly, next to everything was do-able! Safety was a priority, order and cleanliness were priorities. The environment was a priority – and so were children! Oh my!

But it is unfair of me to request all this of an island of just over 200,000 people from varying backgrounds and cultures. Here, we have to wait for shipments of milk, meat, veg. Here, you can’t get everything (we don’t have 50 million sheep, nor as many dairy cattle) – and sometimes not much of anything. Here, we don’t seem to have enough trained individuals to provide all the services we see on a bigger island/country or on a mainland. Here we see monopolies, because monopolies can exist. Here we see closed offices and stores, because here they can be. The public adapts and gets used to less, and paying more for less.

Here we get used to receiving 5 free electric bikes for a university population of 540, to share on the weekends – but only 5 because they’re too dangerous to ride during the week (so it’s okay to risk 5 lives?). The public accepts a complete misunderstanding of International Women’s Day that turns into an event for ladies to sew, paint shells and get massages. Ripped up roads remain ripped up for a year in the middle of town and that’s normal. Children wear uniforms, learn from photocopies, are seated boy-girl-boy, and families are happy to call education modern. No bananas, no tomatoes, no wholewheat pasta, no organic markets. Who needs these things? Affordable technology, affordable books, affordable art supplies – who needs these? Reliable health care that doesn’t result in one too many operations, infection or an emergency trip to Australia? As I say, I am guilty. Guilty of projecting my mainland habits onto a small island’s limited resources.

There are simply not enough of us to create/force the demand or guarantee the supply on this tiny, idyllic island. Nor does there appear to be much of a desire to step into a world where things really could be easier. So most adapt, or travel to nearby New Zealand and Australia to seek what they are missing. Many go without, because they simply cannot afford any better.

We have enough for today. Why plan for tomorrow?

Time to go for that swim, time to dive into those pristine waters and reconnect with all that extraordinary underwater life – to remember what I love here, after and above all.