By THAN HTUN (GEOSCIENCE MYANMAR)
UNESCO’S Executive Board has endorsed the addition of 18 sites to the UNESCO Global Geoparks network on 24 May 2023. This brings the total number of geoparks to 195 in 48 countries. Two UNESCO Member States join the network: New Zealand and the Philippines.
The UNESCO Global Geopark label was created in 2015. It recognizes the geological heritage of international significance. Geoparks serve local communities by combining the conservation of their significant geological heritage with public outreach and a sustainable approach to development. The 18 new designations have brought the network up to 195 UNESCO Global Geoparks, covering a total surface area of 486,709 square kilometres, equivalent to twice the size of the United Kingdom. The 18 new geoparks are: -
Caçapava UNESCO Global Geopark: For the Guarani, an indigenous people in Brazil, this geopark is ‘the place where the jungle ends’. The geopark is located in Rio Grande do Sul State in southernmost Brazil. Its geological heritage, which consists of mining sulfide metals and marble, has been vital for the region’s economic development.
Quarta Colônia UNESCO Global Geopark: This geopark is located in the south of Brazil between the Pampa and Atlantic Forest biomes. Its name is a reference to the period when Italians colonised the central part of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The geopark is also rich in fossils of animal and plant life dated to 230 million years ago. It holds the record for the oldest dinosaurs on the planet, with Triassic fossils of great international significance.
Lavreotiki UNESCO Global Geopark: Famous for the abundance and variety of its mineralogical specimens, many of which were first discovered in the area, this geopark is known around the world for the silver that is extracted from mixed sulfide deposits.
Ijen UNESCO Global Geopark: This geopark is located in the Banyuwangi and Bondowoso Regencies in East Java Province. The geopark’s strategic location between the strait and the sea has made it a crossroads for human migration and commerce. Ijen is one of the most active volcanoes in the Ijen caldera system.
Maros Pangkep UNESCO Global Geopark: This geopark is located along the southern arm of the island of Sulawesi in the Maros and Pangkep Regencies. The local population is primarily composed of the indigenous peoples of Bugis and Makassarese. Although the geopark covers an area of 5,077 square kilometres, more than half (55.4 per cent) of it lies underwater.
Merangin Jambi UNESCO Global Geopark: This geopark is home to the unique fossils of “Jambi flora”, which are the only exposed fossilized plants of their kind in the world today. These are located in the central part of Sumatra Island in Indonesia. The name ‘Jambi flora’ refers to fossilized plants found as part of a rock formation dating from the Early Permian (296 million years old).
Raja Ampat UNESCO Global Geopark: This geopark’s territory includes four main islands and is special for having the oldest exposed rock unit in the country (Silurian–Devonian dating back 443.8–358.9 million years ago), which is almost one-tenth of the age of the Earth. The most unusual geological feature is the Tropical Islands which emerged as a consequence of sea-level rise in the Quaternary Period (between 2.58 million years ago and 11,700 years ago); here, karstification has created numerous caves both above and below the water line.
Aras UNESCO Global Geopark: The Aras River marks the northern limit of this geopark located in northwestern Iran at the southern end of the Lesser Caucasus mountain range. This mountain range acts as a natural barrier. It has created a range of climates, as well as rich geodiversity and biodiversity; it also links different cultures on the northern and southern sides of the mountain chain. The most important geological feature of international significance in this geopark is the traces of the extinction event that occurred 252 million years ago which marks the Permian–Triassic Boundary, one of the most important events in the Earth’s history.
Tabas UNESCO Global Geopark: Many thinkers have referred to the 22,771 square kilometres of desert in northwest South Khorasan Province where this geopark is located as ‘the geological paradise of Iran’. This is due to the fact that one can follow the evolution of the planet from the earliest part of the Earth’s history 4.6 billion years ago (the Precambrian) to the Early Cretaceous about 145 million years ago without the slightest interruption. The geopark is home to Naybandan Wildlife Refuge, the largest in Iran, which covers an area of 1.5 million hectares and is the most important habitat of the Asian cheetah.
Hakusan Tedorigawa UNESCO Global Geopark: Located in central Japan, where it follows the Tedori River from Mount Hakusan down to the sea, the Hakusan Tedorigawa Geopark records approximately 300 million years of history. It contains rocks that were formed by the collision of continents. It also has strata containing fossils of dinosaurs which accumulated in rivers and lakes on land at a time when Japan was attached to the Eurasian continent.
Kinabalu UNESCO Global Geopark: Mount Kinabalu dominates this geopark in the State of Sabah at the northern end of the island of Borneo. The highest mountain lying between the Himalayas and New Guinea, Mount Kinabalu has been attracting explorers for over a century. Covering an area of 4,750 square kilometres, the geopark is home to many endemic plants and animals, including 90 orchid species that exist only on Mount Kinabalu, and the crimson-headed partridge bird not found anywhere else on Earth.
Waitaki Whitestone UNESCO Global Geopark: New Zealand’s first UNESCO Global Geopark lies on the east coast of the South Island, extending over an area of 7,214 square kilometres from the Waitaki Valley to the base of the Southern Alps. The landscapes, rivers and tides of this geopark have enormous cultural significance for the local indigenous people, the Ngāi Tahu whānui. The geopark offers exceptional insights into the history of the Earth’s eighth continent, Zealandia, or Te Riu-a-Māui in Maori.
Sunnhordland UNESCO Global Geopark: The landscapes in this geopark range from glacier-covered alpine mountains to archipelagos with thousands of islands situated on the strand flat along the coast. The geological landscape displays textbook examples of glacial erosion that occurred during the 40 ice ages. The Hardangerfjord Fault separates a billion years of geological evolution. The geopark showcases how volcanic systems build continents: at the place where two tectonic plates converge, the compressed plate crumples before being uplifted to form a mountain range in a process known as orogeny.
Bohol Island UNESCO Global Geopark: The Philippines’ first UNESCO Global Geopark, Bohol Island, sits in the Visayas island group. The island’s geological identity has been pieced together over 150 million years, as periods of tectonic turbulence have raised the island from the ocean depths. Traces of the island’s subterranean past can be found in the limestone which forms characteristic karstic structures. The geopark abounds in karstic geosites such as caves, sinkholes and cone karst, including the famous cone-shaped Chocolate Hills in the centre of the geopark.
REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Jeonbuk West Coast UNESCO Global Geopark: This geopark tells 2.5 billion years of well-exposed geological history in the western part of the country. The vast tidal flats dotted with volcanoes and islands allow us to travel through time to piece together elements of the Earth’s history. The Korean word for tid al flats is ‘getbol’. The Gochang Getbol is one of 19 coastal wetland areas in the world with a tidal range greater than five metres (macrotidal).
Cabo Ortegal UNESCO Global Geopark: Take a journey into the interior of our planet by discovering rocks that emerged from the depths of the Earth almost 400 million years ago in what is now Cabo Ortegal UNESCO Global Geopark. This geopark provides some of the most complete evidence in Europe of the collision that caused Pangea, a process known as the Variscan Orogeny. Most of the rocks in this geopark were brought to the surface by the collision of two continents, Laurussia and Gondwana, which would eventually join the supercontinent Pangaea about 350 million years ago. When this collision occurred, these rocks were situated in the Earth’s upper mantle, at a depth of more than 70 km.
Khorat UNESCO Global Geopark: This geopark is mostly located in the LamTakhong river basin on the southwestern margin of the Khorat Plateau in Nakhon Ratchasima Province in northeast Thailand. Deciduous dipterocarp forests are the dominant forest type in the area. The unique geological feature of the region is the diversity and abundance of fossils ranging in age from 16 million to 10,000 years. A large range of dinosaurs and other animal fossils like ancient elephants have been found in Mueang District. Petrified wood has also been discovered in sand and gravel deposits both in the Chaloem Phra Kiat and Mueang districts of Nakhon Ratchasima. This has prompted Khorat UNESCO Global Geopark to consider itself the Paleontopolis (City of Ancient Life) of the world.
UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND
Mourne Gullion Strangford UNESCO Global Geopark: This geopark tells the tale of how two oceans evolved over 400 million years of geological history. It charts the closure of the Iapetus Ocean and the birth of the North Atlantic Ocean, which generated large amounts of molten rock (or magma) both within the Earth’s crust and on the surface. The subsequent rocks and landscapes have since been shaped by numerous Earth processes but dominated by those during the most recent Ice Age. The combination of mountain and coastal environments has led to the development of a hugely diverse range of glacial features not commonly seen in such a small area. These provide evidence of multiple stages of ice development and movement in the Mourne Mountains and in Strangford Lough. The geopark is located in the southeast of Northern Ireland, adjacent to the border with the Republic of Ireland, and covers an area of 1,932 square kilometres. People have inhabited this area since just after the end of the last glaciation.
References: UNESCO, Last update: 25 May 2023