Shrimp farming in New Caledonia typically uses a flow-through system with water exchange rates as a tool to maintain optimum hydrological and biological parameters for the crop. Moreover, the effluent shows hydrobiological characteristics (minerals, phytoplankton biomass and organic matter) significantly higher than that of the receiving environment. Separate surveys were carried out in a bay (CH Bay) with a medium-size intensive farm (30 ha) (PO) and in a mangrove-lined creek (TE Creek) near a larger semi-intensive farm (133 ha) (SO). Net loads of nitrogen exported from the semi-intensive farm and the intensive farm amounted to 0.68 and 1.36 kg ha(-1)day(-1), respectively. At CH Bay, discharge effects were spatially limited and clearly restricted to periods of effluent release. The high residence time at site TE favoured the installation of a feedback system in which organic matter was not exported. Mineralization of organic matter led to the release of nutrients, which in turn, caused in an increased eutrophication of this ecosystem. The study of the pico- and nanophytoplankton assemblages showed (i) a shift in composition from picophytoplankton to nanophytoplankton from offshore towards the coast and (ii) a shift within the picophytoplankton with the disappearance of Prochlorococcus and the increase of picoeucaryotes towards the shoreline. These community changes may partially be related to a nitrogen enrichment of the environment by shrimp farm discharges. Thus, in view of the recent addition of the New Caledonian lagoon to the UNESCO World Heritage list, the data presented here could be a first approach to quantify farm discharges and evaluate their impact on the lagoon. Copyright (c) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.