Observe sharks in the lagoon of New CaledoniaObserve sharks in the lagoon of New Caledonia
©Observe sharks in the lagoon of New Caledonia|Dean Cropp - Access All Angles

Understanding shark safety

in New Caledonia

In New Caledonia, as in many tropical destinations, people and sharks have always lived together. Even if several recent attacks have aroused legitimate fears among bathers, the shark risk remains statistically low, and could be even lower by adopting all the right preventive measures. By following safety measures and local regulations, you can further reduce this risk and fully enjoy the beauty of the world’s largest lagoon and its incredible biodiversity.

Shark incidents

in New Caledonia

A recent study by HAL-IRD reveals that from 1958 to 2020, New Caledonia recorded 67 shark-related incidents, including 13 fatalities. These incidents predominantly affected underwater hunters (58.5%), followed by swimmers (18.5%) and board sports enthusiasts (14%). Local authorities are actively addressing this issue through various regulatory and preventive actions, including exploring the possibility of installing anti-shark nets in high-traffic areas.

However, in terms of accidentology, these dramatic events remain despite everything statistically isolated cases compared to other natural hazards. In addition, the research team at Florida’s National Museum of Natural History, which is carrying out work to reference all unprovoked shark attacks from 1580 to the present day, invites us to put New Caledonia’s situation in the world into perspective. New Caledonia ranks 13th for the number of shark attacks, far behind destinations such as Australia (691 attacks), South Africa (260 attacks) or Hawaii (179 attacks), with much higher attack volumes.

At a time when global pressure on the oceans seems to be driving more sharks to live in the Caledonian lagoon (protected, teeming and healthy), it is therefore essential to respect the rules of prevention by avoiding any “human behavior at risk” (attitudes that could frighten sharks, put them in a position to defend their territory or simply confuse us with their usual food).

Did you know? While acknowledging the reality of shark risk, it’s important not to overestimate it. Sharks are responsible for fewer than 10 fatalities globally each year, compared to 1,000 caused by crocodiles, 25,000 by dogs, and a staggering 800,000 by mosquitoes!

Frequently asked questions about risk in New Caledonia
  • Where and when is it safe to swim?

    Most shark incidents occur when humans engage in risky behaviour around sharks. To coexist safely with sharks, it’s crucial to observe some basic rules. Avoid swimming in areas with known shark risks and be cautious about the time of day when entering the water.

  • Where to swim in New Caledonia?

    In New Caledonia, the authorities closely monitor shark alerts, carry out surveillance rounds and advise users which beaches to avoid. Generally speaking, we advise against swimming:

    • In ports, near boat moorings and marinas.
    • In turbid waters, near pipes or river mouths.
    • In the Nouville peninsula area of Nouméa.

    For even greater safety, we recommend that you take advantage of supervised beaches. These adopt a flag system:

    • Green flag: supervised swimming and no particular danger;
    • Orange flag: supervised but dangerous swimming;
    • Red flag: swimming prohibited.

    In Nouméa, the beaches of the Baie des Citrons and Anse-Vata have lifeguard surveillance from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, from December to the end of February, during the April, September and November school vacations, and, between these, on all long weekends.
    Nouméa’s restricted nautical zones are regularly monitored by drone (Baie des Citrons, Anse-Vata and Magenta).

  • When should I avoid swimming?

    Certain times of the day pose a higher risk of shark encounters in New Caledonia. It’s advisable not to swim after heavy rain (or other weather events causing murky water) and during dusk or dawn.

  • How to swim in complete peace of mind?
    • Do not throw food into the water (avoid feeding fish).
    • Refrain from swimming with your dog.
    • Avoid disposing of fish remains near islets, anchorages, or swimming areas (for fishermen).
    • Do not keep fish in your belt (for fishermen).
    • Engage in water activities like kitesurfing, scuba diving, or windsurfing with company, not alone.
  • How do you react to a threatening shark?

    If you encounter a shark, stay calm, maintain eye contact, and do not turn your back on it. Hold up a solid object (snorkel, mask, fin) to deter it. Most sharks will lose interest upon realising the object is inedible.

  • What species are protected in New Caledonia?

    The protection of biodiversity is written into New Caledonia’s territorial DNA. The shark is an important animal in Kanak custom and for the ecosystem. It has always been part of the Caledonian environment. Here, people and sharks must be able to live in harmony. As the shark’s reproductive rate is adapted to its status as a super predator, it has a low reproductive rate, making it particularly vulnerable and threatened worldwide. Increasing fishing pressure is making the shark even more fragile in the face of human intervention. This is why, since 2013, all sharks are classified as protected species in New Caledonia. Apart from occasional “shark sampling” operations conducted by the authorities for regulatory purposes, fishing, transporting, trading, cutting up, holding and consuming all or part of the shark are therefore prohibited.

    To ensure the protection of residents, holidaymakers and at the same time preserve the animal species, several preventive actions are being implemented by the authorities:

    • Surveillance of Nouméa bays during busy periods;
    • Ban on shark-feeding;
    • Set-up of “hydrophone” beacons to track shark movements;
    • Repelling sharks offshore;
    • Temporary closure of swimming areas in the event of reports;
    • Selective sampling to regulate overpopulated species or those presenting an immediate danger.
  • Which sharks are present in New Caledonia?

    The use of the term “shark” actually masks a wide diversity of specimens in New Caledonia. In fact, biologists have reportedly counted 49 species of shark, many of which represent no danger to humans if you are content not to pester them. This is the case for most of the sharks we typically spot on a snorkelling or scuba-diving trip, including:

    The movement of sharks in the lagoon is the subject of numerous studies by local authorities and environmental associations, enabling us to learn about their main habitat zones and indicate them via signs to sea users. The largest specimens, such as the mako, tiger, hammerhead and great white sharks, are found further offshore, on the other side of the coral reef, and rarely make incursions into the lagoon. Their natural prey is not man, although a few attacks by tiger sharks have been observed. The bulldog shark requires greater vigilance, as some have settled near the coast and can be more aggressive towards humans.

    By following these few recommendations and exercising a minimum of vigilance, you’ll be able to swim in peace in New Caledonia. It would be a shame not to take advantage of our UNESCO World Heritage lagoon and its exceptional biodiversity!