The overseas departments of France have an exceptional natural beauty, and are particularly rich in biodiversity. Conscious of the fragility of their local ecosystems, public and professional local tourism officials are actively trying to preserve their natural heritage.
France's ninth national park, born in 2007, covers 40% of the area of the Reunion island, making up 23 communities and composed of more than 300 species of endemic plants, original wildlife and an active volcano. For its peaks, craters, and ramparts, Réunion has been classified as part of the World Heritage List.
Since the 1970s, the coral reefs of the island have sustained significant deterioration linked to natural causes such as hurricanes and/or overfishing and pollution. In order to confront this situation, Réunion has funded a National Natural Marine Reserve with an area of 35 km2, encompassing 80% of the island’s coral reefs (only 5% of coral reefs worldwide benefit from this kind of protection).
Fifteen communities are also united in this network, under the label of Villages Créoles, and are engaged in a quality, responsible approach. The network’s goal is to participate in the development of populations and areas, and to contribute to the preservation of the environment, natural resources and biodiversity. In 2007 it won an award in the Culture and Heritage category at the Responsible Tourism Awards.
The New Caledonia lagoon was recognized by UNESCO in July 2008 as part of its World Heritage List. There are six specific sites: the coral barrier and the mangrove in the south, the coastal zone in the North and East and the Grand Lagoon in the north, the Loyauté islands, the Ouvéa Atolls and the Beautemps-Beaupré, and the Entrecasteaux.
To obtain UNESCO’s World Heritage certification, sites must fulfill four criteria: an ecological and organic process for the evolution of ecosystems, the presence of habitats that are well preserved to promote biodiversity, including endangered and symbolic species, an exceptional natural beauty, and representations of the history of the land.
Faced with problems due notably to global warming, French Polynesia and its local organizdations are mobilizing for the safeguarding of its heritage and its species. Here are the principal initiatives for the protection of local flora and fauna being put to work:
- The tortoise protection center is a scientific and touristic project created in 1999 by the Pae Tai Pae Uta organization, with the active participation of Le Méridien de Bora Bora. In cooperation with the involved ministers, a team has been dedicated to the convalescence of sea tortoises gathered by volunteers. The tortoises, whether adults or babies, are looked after and rereleased when they are strong enough to escape future predators.
- On Moorea, a clinic for sea tortoises has gathered and cared for sick and injured tortoises since 2004. Created as part of a program for the protection of sea tortoises and put in place by the Polynesian environmental minister, the Tortoise Clinic, located in the heart of the InterContinental Hotel Moorea Resort & Spa is managed by the “te mana o te moana” organization. Since its creation, the clinic has hosted 110 tortoises, of which 33 have been rereleased.
- Alerted to the dangers that present themselves in the coral by biologist Denis Schneider, the direction of Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa decided to support the creation of a coral nursery. This veritable underwater laboratory is above all out to protect and take care of coral in danger in order to let it grow in a protected environment. It also allows the discovery of conditions and mysteries of this particular ecosystem in the best conditions. In 2001, artificial concrete reefs in were immersed to support coral colonies and to slow down the effects of the deep currents. Today the nursery shelters more than 91 reefs supporting nearly 3,000 coral colonies.
- Since 2006, Fakarava and six other surrounding atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago have been classified as biosphere reserves by UNESCO. Fakarava is a coral ring 60 km long by 25 km wide, renowned for the purity of its waters. Created in order to protect the great diversity of its underwater species, the biosphere reserve in Fakarava encompasses nearly 670,000 acres between land and sea. Other than protection of the lagoon, its objective is to protect the numerous endemic species of the atoll, particularly birds and tortoises.
The regional natural park of Martinique was created in 1976 to protect and glorify Martinique’s nature and landscapes. It covers a large part of the island: the natural reserve of Cravelle in the North of the Park, the Ornithological Reserve of the Sainte-Anne islets in the south of the Park, the well managed nature sites including the Domaine de Tivoli and the Domaine d’Estripault. According to its charter, the Park de la Martinique is obliged to contribute to: controlling the evolution of the area, protecting the natural heritage and the landscapes, protecting and promoting Martinique’s cultural heritage, glorifying the natural and cultural heritage in service of a sustainable development for Martinique, and developing the welcome, information, and education available to the public.
The National Park of Guadeloupe includes the most prestigious sites on the island: Les Deux Mamelles, the Falls of Carbet and la Soufrière. This ensemble of diverse aquatic and land-based sites is home to numerous protected species, rich in an ecological, cultural, and environmental sense. The national park coordinates the Natural Reserve of the Grand-Cul-de-Sac-Marin, located between Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre to the north of the Salée River : it’s composted of mangroves, marshy forests, swamps, humid prairies, coral reefs, and underwater herbariums. This zone was classified as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1992.
Established in February 2007, the National Amazonian Park of Guiana preserves a unique environment and its inextricable cultural heritage (that of the Amerindian and Maripa-soula people, and other communities). This area covers nearly 8.5 million acres – 4 times the size of the island of Corsica!
The Natural Regional Park covers a total area of 6,998 km2 with two ends: in the East, the swamps of Kaw, and in the West, the communities of Mana and Awala-Yalimapo. On top of that, it’s home to one of the last stable populations of black caimans in the world, and is one of the most important egg-laying areas for Luth tortoises.
The natural reserve of the island of Grand Connétable, 15 km from the estuary of the Approuague river, completes this picture. It’s the only protected bay on the Amazonian coast, and there, one can count the rare or endangered underwater species, like green tortoises or giant grouper fish.