21.04.2015 - Natural Sciences Sector

European and African experts work together to create Global Geoparks in Africa

Photo by Michael Rückl, Arzberg (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0). View into the crater of Ol Doinyo Lengai, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania.

Spanning the landscape of the Tanzanian rift valley, from the world's largest unbroken and unflooded volcanic caldera to important active volcanic and geothermal activity, a new Global Geopark project is underway in Ngorongoro (United Republic of Tanzania). It will encompass significant archeological sites that are helping to improve our understanding of human evolution, as well as the homelands of the Hadza indigenous ethnic group, who are among the last hunter-gatherers in the world.

Our planet’s 4,600 million year history has shaped every aspect of our lives and our societies. Global Geoparks use that heritage to promote awareness of key issues facing society today. Resident communities are actively engaged in their Global Geopark, promoting education and sustainable geological tourism. Although Africa’s geological heritage is of particular significance, there is to date only one Global Geopark in the region. However several initiatives are moving forward – the Ngorongoro project is one of them. Its progress is a demonstration of the Global Geopark Network’s priorities: collaboration and networking across the globe.

Landscape of the ridge at the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. Photo William Warby (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

Since aspiring Global Geoparks must be functioning as a de facto Global Geopark at the time of their application, extensive investments are made long before UNESCO learns of their intention to apply. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority won a 2.5 million Euro grant from the European Union in 2013 to prepare. In order to learn from existing Global Geoparks, Joshua Mwankunda, from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, recently participated in the European Geoparks Network annual meeting that was held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris from 30 March to 1 April 2015. He spoke of their efforts to set-up the aspiring Global Geopark.

The European Union funds have been used to develop the necessary infrastructure, including the Oldupai Gorge eco-museum, a community center and geological walk. In addition, experts from the Haute Provence Global Geopark (France), one of the founding members of the European Geopark Network, have been working with their Tanzanian homologues to help train the team and develop their nomination dossier. One such expert, Guy Martini, has been working with the Ngorongoro Geopark team extensively over the past year. Partners in other regions were involved in capacity building efforts, as the Tanzanian team joined Martini on a support mission to the new Dong Van Karst Plateau Global Geopark in Vietnam to learn from another Global Geopark in a developing country.

The globalization of the Global Geopark Network to ensure geographic representation is a priority of UNESCO and has been one of the driving factors behind the process to formalize UNESCO Global Geoparks. The Geoparks movement emerged simultaneously in Europe and China over 15 years ago, where the primary clusters of Geoparks exist today. There are now members in North and South America as well as in East and Southeast Asia. In 2014 the first African Global Geopark, M’goun Global Geopark in Morocco, was welcomed into the Global Geopark Network. It is expected that the application for Ngorongoro to be recognized as a Global Geopark will be submitted to UNESCO in December 2015.

Mount Lengai seen from Lake Natron, Tanzania. Photo by Clem23 (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The aspiring Ngorongoro Global Geopark will cover approximately twice the area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area World Heritage site and will include new, important natural sites such as the Ol Doinyo Lengai, the only active carbonatite volcano in the world, and Lake Natron. The Geopark will focus on the geodiversity of the larger landscape as opposed to the Serengeti-Ngorongoro Biosphere Reserve, which focuses on the biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics of the region.

Together, through their efforts to value, protect and manage heritage, biodiversity and geodiversity, the World Heritage Site, Biosphere Reserve and Global Geopark form a complete picture, a path towards sustainable development.

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Olduvai Gorge, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania. Photo Sabine's Sunbird (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

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