19.09.2011 - UNESCOPRESS

Nine sites added to Global Geoparks Network

© UNESCO/Fiona Ryan - Cliffs of Moher Geopark, Ireland

The Global Geoparks Network Bureau admitted nine new members in seven countries during the 10th European Geoparks Conference, which took place in the Gea Norwegica Geopark (Norway) from 16 to 18 September. The Global Network of National Geoparks, created under the aegis of UNESCO in 2004, now numbers 87 Geoparks in 27 countries around the world.

Hong Kong Geopark, China. The Hong Kong Geopark highlights the natural parts of this industrial site, particularly its 150 km long coastline and hilly topography interspersed with plains. Despite its modest area of 49.85 square kilometres, the Geopark boasts world-class acidic volcanic rock columns and a geological history that exhibits sedimentary environments deposited in the Palaeozoic, 520 to 250 million years ago. Coastal processes have resulted in diverse erosional and depositional landforms, including fossils that provide an understanding of the ancient paleoenvironment, geography, climate and biological evolution.

Tianzhushan Geopark, China. Tianzhushan Geopark in Anhui Province is a large mountainous landscape, dotted with granite peaks and caves, waterfalls and springs. It is rich in geoheritage such as mammalian fossils and an ultrahigh pressure metamorphic belt of eclogite, an unusually dense rock important for driving convection within the solid Earth. The Geopark integrates a healthy ecology and rich cultural elements with scientific research, education and tourism. The Geopark features hiking trails with interpretative signalling, tourist information centres and museums. It has scientific education and research activities targeting students from primary school to college. Geological knowledge is promoted through easy to understand public information and outreach activities involving local communities through home stays and farm tours.

Bauges Geopark, France. Part of the Bauges Regional Park, the Bauges Geopark is an area of middle elevation mountains in the north-western French Alps. From afar, the area looks like a rocky fortress; a preserved natural island emerging from an urbanized surrounding sea. The massif features cliffs of resistant limestone and sedimentary rocks, which form perched synclines and give the Bauges a distinct landform. Major tectonic fault lines witness to strong mountain-building processes and the karst landscape is crisscrossed by large and small defiles in the cretaceous limestone that create wetlands, lakes, springs and caves. The famous “Savoyarde” cliff is an impressively folded limestone deposit at the southern tip of the area, resembling the folk headdress traditionally worn by women in the region.

Katla Geopark, Iceland. The geological significance of the Katla Geopark is centred on the now famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano which temporarily paralysed air travel over Europe in April 2010. The region is characterized by a volcanic morphology that includes eruption craters and fissures, lava fields, hyaloclastite lava ridges and tuff mountains. Glaciers are prominent in the landscape and cover the highest mountains and volcanoes. Near the glaciers are several glacier outlets, glacier rivers and glacial formations like moraines and ice-dammed lakes. Glacier outburst floods, caused by subglacial eruptions, have created outwash plains in the lowlands. Other interesting features in the area are fossiliferous xenoliths, pseudocraters and tephra layers that are useful for geological dating. In a region where the daily life of the population is strongly affected by volcanic activity, geotourism constitutes an important driver for sustainable development.

Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, Ireland. Situated on Ireland's west coast between the cities of Limerick and Galway, Burren is a geological landscape of rolling limestone hills and plateaux, dramatic sea cliffs and waterways that disappear underground and emerge from a vast network of caves. Most of the Geopark’s coastline is marked by the celebrated 200-metre-high Cliffs of Moher. Coastal erosion has created the sea-caves, sea-arches, sea-stacks, storm beaches and sand dunes that lend the area its distinct character. The Burren is internationally famous for its rich ecology and archaeology. It is home to more than 70% of Ireland’s native plants, including unusual combinations of Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean species, and has a legacy of human settlement spanning more than 6,000 years.

Apuan Alps Geopark, Italy. This Geopark comprises the Apuan Alps Regional Park and surrounding areas in the Apuan Alps mountains. It stretches from north-west Tuscany in central Italy to the northern limits of the peninsula at the transition of the Middle-European and Mediterranean bio-geographical regions. The Geopark is host to many endemic species, as well as rocks, minerals, fossils and tectonic structures. The site is famous for its beautiful marbles, deep canyons and large karst caves. The rare morphology of the Apuan Alps has attracted travellers since the 16th century. Today, the Geopark offers visitors recreational activities like mountain climbing and hiking.

Muroto Geopark, Japan. Located on Shikoku Island in southwestern Japan, Muroto Geopark was once submerged by the sea. Its caves were formed underwater and were later uplifted by earthquakes which occur in the region every 100 to 150 years, sometimes triggering tsunamis that wash the coast away. Muroto Geopark is a living laboratory in a subduction zone – a place where one section of the Earth's crust descends below another. It comprises a record of dynamic movements brought about by the motion of tectonic plates. This tectonic process resulted in magmatic activity that created the dark, coarse-grained gabbroic rocks that form the Muroto Peninsula. In fact, Cape Muroto is being uplifted 1 to 2 meters per 1,000 years, which is one of the fastest rates of uplift in the world. Besides the obvious natural phenomena, the Geopark helps demonstrate the danger of large earthquakes and tsunamis and offers an example of prediction and protection through the use of state-of-the-art science and technology.

Sierra Norte di Sevilla, Andalusia, Spain. The Sierra Norte di Sevilla Geopark is an area with a rich geological heritage that promotes tourism while protecting and geological heritage, and boosting sustainable economic development. It is one of the largest natural parks in Andalusia, covering 177,484 hectares and is located in the mountainous alignments of the Sierra Morena, between the geological zones of Ossa-Morena and Sudportuguese. Most rocks date back to the earliest stages of Earth’s history starting 4.5 billion years from the Precambrian and Paleozoic (540 million years), or Permian (290 million years) and Lower Triassic (258 million years), except in the South-eastern area of the Park, where there are some outcrops 20 million year-old Miocene sedimentary rocks.

Villuercas Ibores Jara Geopark, Spain. The Villuercas Geopark features an isolated mountain range in the southeast of the province of Cáceres, in the Spanish Extremadura region. The area is named after its highest peak, La Villuerca (1,601m). It affords a magnificent vista that includes the famous Monastery of Guadalupe. This unique landform is characterized by structurally controlled morphological features, and an intensely folded and fractured landscape. The Geopark covers a broad period of geological time and features the oldest rocks in Europe, from the Ediacaran, Cambrian, Ordovician, and Silurian periods between 650 and 400 million years ago. The Geopark is also rich in natural heritage including protected birds, biodiversity corridors and monumental trees. These elements are complimented by vestiges of a mining culture and decorated menhir stones, or monoliths, dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages.

The Global Network of National Geoparks was launched in 2004 with UNESCO’s support to encourage cooperation between geological heritage experts and practitioners. To be selected as Geoparks, sites must contain geological heritage of exceptional scientific and educational importance, rarity or beauty. They must also possess an effective management structure, clearly defined boundaries and a sufficiently large area to permit significant sustainable economic development, primarily through tourism.

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