The overseer of the New Zealand navy contingent helping to clear wartime mines from New Caledonian waters says they've become almost part of the region's marine ecology.
Experts from France, the United States, Australia and New Zealand have joined the operation, dubbed Lagoon Minex, which began today, and targets the sea lanes to Noumea and Prony Bay where the Brazilian Vale Inco nickel company is about to open a port.
The estimated 1,600 mines, planted in the lagoon during the Second World War to ward off a Japanese invasion, each contains up to 300 kilogrammes of explosives, which Commander David Hedgley says could destroy a ship.
He says most will be taken to deeper water.
"The mines themselves are probably impact mines but they've been sitting on the lagoon for almost 70 years and they're almost part of the sea life themselves. In fact depending on where they are they do form almost part of the sea life ecology."
Commander David Hedgley says the operation will last two weeks.