The Baie du Prony is on the southeastern tip of the Grande Terre Island of New Caledonia. The southeastern lip of the bay is formed by a high, rocky peninsula. There are no villages here, no homes, and rarely any visitors. The whole area is a nature reserve set up to protect an ecosystem rich with rare endemic plants. Recently the government of New Caledonia improved the reserve infrastructure and put some moorings in the "Magic Anchorage (Anse Majic) so visiting boats would not drop their anchors in the delicate corals that line these protected bays. We tied up to one of the moorings to visit the Cap N'Dua lighthouse overlooking the great southern lagoon.
The water in these bays is normally not very clear but when we arrive, for whatever reason, we can see the bottom pretty well in 7 metres of water. We decide to have a look around with the dinghy and check out the reef. Actually I am not too thrilled about snorkelling in Baie du Prony as there are many very large tiger sharks that live in it's murky depths. Sometimes, in the morning or evening we have seen their impressively large dorsal fins knifing a sinuous path through the calm bays.
We motor slowly along the eastern shore of Anse Majic and circle around a couple of interesting looking coral pinnacles. Then we round Anse Majic point where a rocky cliff drops right down into the water. A friend of ours who spear fishes often in the bay told me he saw a big Tiger shark right in this area, off this very point, several times. He thinks it lives here.
"Wow! Look at this studio," I stop the dinghy. In the calm just off the point we can see an absolutely breathtaking display of corals right next to the plant adorned rocky shore. In all the years we have spent in the tropics I have never seen such a display of lush, bright corals growing right next to the shore.
"This is the perfect place to do a above/below sphere," I say and motor back along the coast to find a sandy area to drop the dinghy anchor. In the calm lee of the cliff, the corals are perfectly visible. It is just past noon.
I gear up and slide into the water (quietly so as not to awaken the Tiger shark that I just KNOW is out there in the blue/grey depths) . Freddy hands me my fibreglass telescopic pole, and my trusty little GoPro Hero 3 then she grabs her camera and slides (quietly) into the sea and together we snorkel over to a really lovely coral area close to the cliff.
While Freddy porpoises around keeping an eye out for gigantic tiger sharks, and taking close-up photos of corals and fish, I find the best vantage point to take the sphere image.
There are very few fish, just little tiny ones, and a few bright blue Tridacna maxima clams, but the corals are just mind blowing; the bottom is completely covered with thickets of gossamer fragile Acropora corals and massive rounded heads of Porites. The more delicate shapes could only exist where there is little or no wave action to damage them.
When I am done with the sphere image we swim further along the point until we come to some turbid water. Not good. We turn and swim back to the dinghy, diving down along the coral ramparts, marvelling at the complexity and variety of coral species along this coral coast.
After we slither aboard the dinghy I say, "Fantastic, that reef is just amazing,"
"I hope it survives," Freddy says as she dries off.
"Mordor," I say and she nods. Mordor is what we call the giant Nickle mining and processing operation in the next bay to the north of this one (click on the "open map" tab and zoom out to see it).
Mordor has just started actual processing of the Nickel ore. A couple of years ago they installed a gigantic underwater pipeline to carry the effluent out of Prony Bay and eject the (perfectly harmless) effluent from the chemical processing plant into the Passe de Havannah. Aside from a couple of accidental spills of thousands of litres of sulphuric acid, the vast areas where mountains are being strip mined for nickel ore and consequent massive sedimentation following heavy rains, and the side issue of using a coal fired electrical plant, the company claims the operation will not harm the delicate marine parks and nature reserves in this area. We call it Mordor because, at night, the orange lights, twin towers and billowing smoke looks just like the movie set from the Lord of the Rings, as Mordor gets ready to attack Middle Earth.
But, for the moment, in the here and now, this coral reef is magnificently alive and well - and has survived for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. There are no plans to mine the mountains surrounding this bay.
"It might survive OK." I say as I put my camera away, "but it's probably a good thing to capture a sphere image of it now when it is so magnificent."
New Caledonia is the closest South Pacific Island to Australia and New Zealand. It is a French Territory and although the official language is French the culture is a blend of Melanesian, European, Polynesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian, and more. There is one large mountainous island called Grande Terre and 6 smaller islands - the three Loyalty Islands, Belep and the Isle of Pines.The islands are remarkably unpopulated and there are vast areas of wilderness. There are hundreds of kilometers of walking treks, camp grounds, more than 42 parks and reserves, and crystal clear rivers with sparkling waterfalls. Almost one third of the population is located in the capital city of Noumea. Nickel mining is the primary industry and is the major contributor to the high standard of living in the country. Grande Terre is surrounded by the second largest barrier reef in the world and the protected lagoon created by this barrier reef is the largest in the world. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008, the lagoon is 24,000 square kilometers and supports a diverse and luxuriant fauna of fish and invertebrates.The vibrant, clear and rich colors are one of the first things that visitors notice when they arrive. Noumea has a complete range of hotels, resorts, restaurants, and activities to welcome visitors.