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Core values of Geopark
Four main core values of geoparks include landscape conservation, environmental education, geo-tourism and local participation, which are also the polestar and the motivation of establishing the Geoparks of Taiwan. Brief introductions of these four core values are as follows:
Geoparks aim to conserve landscapes not only by preventing landscapes with environment and scientific values from intentional or unintentional damage, but by making these educationally and academically valuable sites the cornerstone for the sustainability of human society.
The first core value of a geopark is landscape conservation. A geopark should protect crucially representative rocks, mineral resources, fossils, landform and cultural landscapes.
The promotion of landscape conservation activities are particularly important if we are to make visitors to geoparks aware of the irreversible nature of landscapes and avoid improper development. For example, the expansion of settlements or new developments should not be detrimental to local milieu and landscapes.
A geopark does not have to be specifically a whole new category of protected area. It can be located in an existing national park or national scenic area, but with a distinct difference from the exclusively protected areas. The administrations and authorities in charge of the geopark must ensure that the protection of the geology, geography, and landscape heritages are in accordance with local traditions and legislative obligations. Apart from these, they should also make sure that the local administrations and communities work together to decide on the level and measures of protection of certain sites or geological outcrops. A geopark can be divided into core zone, buffer zone, and sustainability zone by their conservation level.
Through environmental education and landscape conservation, geoparks are natural laboratories and provide a knowledge base for the earth sciences, and demonstrates the interaction between human society and the environment. This gives a chance for the public to understand and be acquainted with, and thereby cherish the environment. With the implementation of the national Environmental Education Act, geoparks have become excellent locations for environmental education.
Geoparks pass on to the public the concepts of environmental knowledge and environmental protection through a variety of educational opportunities and activities. Living museums, interpretive and educational centers, guided geo-tours, popular literature and maps, modern media publicity are some examples. Through conducting research on local environment and through education program conducted by independent community organizations and research institutes like colleges, residents and visitors get to acquaint themselves with the local environment of geoparks.
A variety of activities and opportunities, such as excursions for school groups, seminars, and environmental and cultural conservation activities, take place to introduce local landscape and environment to residents, teachers and students, and tourists. These means serve as a window for environmental education.
Understanding the natural and cultural environment is a good starting point for conserving geoparks. It will in turn reinforce the local consciousness, pride and identity, which is beneficial to environmental and landscape conservation. In addition, when tourists have deep understanding of the places they visit, they will appreciate the importance and the value of it, and therefore cherish and devote themselves into their conservation.
By attracting visitors to geosites, geo-clusters or even geoparks with their particular beauty, we are not only developing geo-tourism activities based on geology and landscapes, but also fulfilling the local economic needs and empowering the local community with local environmental knowledge and interpretation skills. Such knowledge-oriented capacity building enhances the local economy and provides for a better and sustainable future. Such initiatives encourage local participation in environmental protection, preservation and conservation activities, and create value-added sustainable tourism.
Geo-tourism based on the special landscapes is particularly instrumental for promoting geoparks. A tourism interpretation for geoparks is particularly influential if integrated with the local socio-economic and cultural environments. Such integration enriches the depth of environmental knowledge and gives the tourist interpretation a local flavor. The multi-faceted relationship between human and the environment of geoparks can be much appreciated as well. Geo-tourism depends on the holistic combination of landscape ecology, geology and geographic environments.
Geo-tourism is at its best when it takes into account landscape conservation and the socio-economic and cultural aspects of local communities. Its significance lies in how we take both landscape conservation and the well-beings of the local residents and their future generations. Such implement of geo-tourism is not only responsible, but also sustainable for the local community and human society as a whole.
The detailed rules and regulations of eco- or geo-tourism have to consider the carrying capacity of the environment, the environmental experience of visitors and residents, the quality of interpretation for tourists, quality of living space for creatures, support of local environmental and cultural resource conservation, respect for local traditions and residents’ privacy, and so on. It is truly meaningful to transform the profits of geo-tourism into a real strength to support local communities and the conservation work.
To make geosites, geo-clusters, and geoparks valuable for the local economy, the participation of local residents is a “must”. Through local community mobilization and learning from each other, the inventory of local natural/cultural resourses, the integration of materials for environmental interpretation, environmental education and even organizations can become authentically localized. The way residents devote themselves into activities can reinforce the sense of place and local community, and enhance the motivation for better landscape conservation and local sustainability. Such mechanism is important because it creates bottom-up momentum in the establishment of geoparks.
One of the strategic objectives of geoparks is to mobilize local involvement in boosting the vitality of local society and economy. That objective gives care about sustainable social life through local participation in the geoparks. Through the endeavors of the local populace, along with the help of academia or professionals, the community will be able to develop certain interpretation materials and contents that integrate both physical and human aspects of the local milieu. Such materials and contents are good for promoting localized ways of life to share with knowledge-based tourists. With such mechanism, locals are able to share their traditional knowledge, handicraft and techniques, and benefit from geo-tourism economically. Doing so, the communities turn their environment into the foundation of environmental education and local creative industry in order to develop a localized sustainable economy.
Geoparks provide local environmental education and mobilize the local people to directly contribute to the area where geoparks are. With zealous local participation, geoparks generate a source of strength to make community integral and sustained. With local community’s tailored management, geoparks can not only boost the local economy, but also enhance communal cultural and social life with environmental integrity.
The inventory of the 341 geo-sites is a fundamental reference for landscape conservation beginning in 2012. The Forestry Bureau has exercised it authority to make 22 of the sites into nature reserves, and some of them will be well kept for conservation partly through geoparks. Taiwan has a total 9 geoparks. The geoparks are strategically designed to study how communities are capable of developing geo-tourism, to conduct landscape conservation, and to develop sustainable local societies and economies. Taiwan geoparks are important in terms of their geology, geomorphology, rural society, local economic of involvement, and community networking. Visitors will appreciate how good practices can keep the local environment intact and how the efforts of local community can envision a sustainable future.