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New Caledonia and the Pacific Islands

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New Caledonia, the foreshortened form of Territory of New Caledonia and Dependencies[1] (French: Nouvelle-Calédonie or Territoire des Nouvelle-Calédonie et Dependances; popular names: Kanaky, Le caillou), is a "sui generis collectivity" (in practice an overseas territory) of France, made up of a main island (Grande Terre) and several smaller islands. It is located in the region of Melanesia in the southwest Pacific. At about half the size of Taiwan, it has a land area of 18,575.5 square kilometres (7,172 sq mi). The population at the 2004 census was 230,789 inhabitants. It has an Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) of .nc. The capital and largest city of the territory is Nouméa. The currency is the CFP franc.

Since 1986 the United Nations Committee on Decolonization has included New Caledonia on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. New Caledonia will decide whether to remain within the French Republic or become an independent state in a referendum sometime after 2014.

Its capital Nouméa is the seat of the regional organization the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (formerly the South Pacific Commission).

New Caledonia is located around 21°30'S 165°30'E in the southwest Pacific Ocean, approximately 1,200 kilometres (746 mi) east of Australia and 1,500 kilometres (932 mi) northwest of New Zealand. The island nation of Vanuatu lies to the northeast.

New Caledonia is made up of a main island, the Grande Terre, and several smaller islands, the Belep archipelago to the north of the Grande Terre, the Loyalty Islands to the east of the Grande Terre, the Île des Pins to the south of the Grande Terre, the Chesterfield Islands and Bellona Reefs further to the west.

The Grande Terre is by far the largest of the islands, and the only mountainous island. It has an area of 16,372 square kilometres (6,321 sq mi), and is elongated northwest-southeast, 350 kilometres (217 mi) in length and 50 to 70 kilometres (31-44 mi) wide. A mountain range runs the length of the island, with five peaks over 1,500 meters (4,900 ft). The highest point is Mont Panié at 1,628 meters (5,341 ft) elevation . The total area of New Caledonia is 19,060 square kilometres, 18,575 square kilometres of those being land.

New Caledonian soils contain a considerable wealth of industrially-significant elements and minerals, including about one-quarter of the world's nickel resources. Mining is therefore a significant industry that greatly benefits the national economy. However, the country is also home to numerous, critically-important ancient ecosystems. Thus, widely-practiced and indiscriminate open-pit mining across much of New Caledonia, has been (and continues to be) responsible for severe deterioration of the nation's irreplaceable natural heritage.

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