New Caledonia is considered one of the world's most critically endangered and botanically most important hotspots. Unlike many of the Pacific Islands, which are of relatively recent volcanic origin, New Caledonia is part of Zealandia, a fragment of the ancient Gondwana super-continent.
The country still shelters an extraordinary diversity of unique, endemic, and extremely primitive plants and animals of Gondwanan origin, as well as the second largest coral reef in the world.
Fossil and subfossil remains reveal that large terrestrial animals once inhabited the island but became extinct during the Holocene prior to European arrival. These include the horned turtle Meiolania, the crocodile Mekosuchus, monitor lizards and a variety of flightless birds, the largest of which was Sylviornis.
The islands contain two precipitation zones: Higher-rainfall areas (located on the Loyalty Islands, Isle of Pines (Île des Pins), and on the eastern side of Grande Terre) which support New Caledonia rain forests, and a more arid region, home to the now exceedingly endangered New Caledonia dry forests, located in the rain shadow on the western side of Grande Terre.
French is the official language of New Caledonia as in the rest of the French Republic.Europeans settled on the dry west coast of Grande Terre, leaving the east (as well as the Loyalty Islands and the Isle of Pines) to the Kanaks, and resulting in an ethno-cultural division which coincides with the natural one. Extensive farming by Europeans in the dry forest areas, has caused these forest ecosystems to virtually disappear.
New Caledonian soils contain a considerable wealth of industrially critical elements and minerals, including about one-quarter of the world's nickel resources. Mining is therefore a significant industry that greatly benefits the territory's economy.
Tourism is playing an increasingly important role in the economy of New Caledonia. Most tourists come from France, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.