La création fin 2015 du label Unesco Global Geopark (noté UGG), au sein du système de patrimonialisation de l’UNESCO, est le fruit d’un long processus de négociations effectué entre l’UNESCO, une communauté épistémique (IUGS) et une ONG (GGN). Après avoir rappelé l’origine et le développement du mouvement international de la géoconservation, que nous considérons comme une étape préliminaire à la proposition de création du modèle de Géoparc, nous présentons le processus d’institutionalisation des géoparcs qui s’est effectué, selon notre analyse des archives documentaires des institutions pré-citées, en trois étapes. Durant la première phase (1996-2004) au sein de l’UNESCO divers scénarios d’inscription des géoparcs dans des programmes existants (World Heritage, MAB, PICG) ont été envisagés. Après avoir présentés les raisons invoquées pour refuser cette proposition d’intégration, nous analysons les deux autres étapes soit la phase de développement des réseaux en Europe et en Asie (2004-2010) et la politique conduite par l’UNESCO (2011-2015) pour tendre vers un développement plus équitable des géoparcs dans le monde.
1. The origins of geoconservation
The origins of geoheritage conservation have been debated for a long time (Burek & Prosser, 2008). While Brocx & Semeniuk (2015, 36) suggest that the current development of geoconservation has been anticipated from ancient times by a number of polymath natural philosophers in various areas of the world, Erikstad (2008, 249) points out that the oldest case of geoconservation activity dates back to Duke Rudolf August’s 1668 decree on the preservation of the Baumannshöle cave (Germany). It is worth noting that from the 19th century the United Kingdom had several sites preserved for their paleontological significance (Brocx and Semeniuk 2015, 36), including Wadsley Fossil Forest in Sheffield (1872) and Fossil Grove in Glasgow (1887).
Burek & Prosser (2008), while examining various developmental stages (see table 1 in the downloadble version, at the bottom of the web page), tend to ascribe the modern notion of geological heritage preservation to the inception of conservation audits, such as the Geological Conservation Review (GCR) which was introduced in the U.K. in 1977 as a nationwide programme to assess geological heritage sites of particular significance for research, education and training as well as entertainment and aesthetic enjoyment (Wimbledon & al. 1995, in Brocx & Semeniuk, 2015, 43). The procedure chosen, designed in three stages (review and site selection; designation and legislation; conservation and management) is viewed as the basis for the systematic process of geoconservation (Brocx et Semeniuk, 2015, 43).
Although this British approach to geoconservation, with its focus on geological surveys, was largely disseminated in Europe and in the rest of the world, it was not the only approach in use at that time. In the U.S.A., for instance, the existence of large tracts of Government-owned territory – in contrast, as Thomas & Warren (2008) point out, with the British situation, where land is mostly under private ownership – has made it much easier, from the 1890s, for geological heritage to be protected through the creation of National Parks such as Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park.
1.1 The advent of ProGEO and the International Declaration of the Rights of the Memory of the Earth
In the 1970s, as a response to the emerging need to foster international contacts, European geoconservation scientists have started organizing a regional network. In 1988, a Dutch working group, created in 1969 to survey sites of special significance to research and education on Earth science, organized the first European Working Group on Earth Science Conservation (EWGESC). In the early 1990s, this group – subsequently renamed ProGEO: The European Association for the Conservation of the Geological Heritage – convened the first International Symposium on the Conservation of the Geological Heritage in Digne-les-Bains, France (1991), the first in a series of symposiums and conferences, organized in collaboration with various international or national institutions (see table 2 in the downloadble version at the bottom of the web page).
The Declaration of the Rights of the Memory of the Earth was passed at the Digne-les-Bains symposium in 1991. Rather than providing a scientific definition, this seminal document on geological heritage chose to echo the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights (1978), with reference to “the Memory of the Earth” in order to foster public interest on the appreciation and ultimate conservation of such heritage:
“Just as an old tree keeps all the records of its growth and life, the Earth retains memories of its past... A record inscribed both in its depths and on the surface, in the rocks and in the landscapes, a record which can be read and translated. […] The past of the Earth is no less important than that of human beings. Now it is time for us to learn to protect, and by doing so, to learn about the past of the Earth, to read this book written before our advent: that is our geological heritage.”
According to Jones (2008, 274), this Declaration provided the philosophical cornerstone for the future Geopark programme. Albeit amply quoted in various documents relating to the creation of geoparks, it allowed different interpretations, leading the various parties involved (researchers, managers, etc.) to specify its elements. Erikstad (2008, 253) points out that the Haute-Provence (France) National Geological Nature Reserve (a combined network of protected geotopes), both by focussing on public awareness building and by contemplating a policy to foster geotourism, was largely influential on the development of ProGEO’s projects and of geoparks.
While the Digne-les-Bains symposium marks the symbolic advent of projects to create geoparks, it was not until the 1993 Malvern Conference that a pragmatic approach was initiated through the Malvern Resolution, a concise document which includes a list of delegates and a brief action plan, clearly calling to “expedite the creation of an international organisation for Earth science conservation which will, on formation, take over the functions of the task force”. Indeed, in the wake of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, discussions at the conference focussed mainly on the proposed creation of a similar convention dedicated to geoconservation (Erikstad 2008).
1.2 UNESCO addressing geoheritage : GILGES and Geosites
Even as geologists were seeking to create some new structure for geoconservation, they were well aware of the existence of (or at least the legal framework for) one international programme that could also provide for geological heritage, since UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention of 1972 explicitly included “natural monuments”, “geological and physiographical formations” and “natural sites” within its definition of the natural heritage. Indeed, since 1989, UNESCO, IUGS, IGCP, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) had been working towards a projected Global Indicative List of Geological Sites (GILGES), including fossil sites, in order to provide UNESCO with a list of geoheritage candidate sites (Erikstad, 2008).
From 1995, IUGS, in conjunction with UNESCO, took over the GILGES project through the Global Geosites programme, which was intended to solve certain malfunctions that had already been pointed out regarding the establishment of the GILGES lists (Gray 2004, 192). Certain criteria for world heritage sites were ill-suited for geoheritage, notably as a result of the wide discrepancy in scale between extensive national parks and fossil sites that sometimes encompass a few hundred square yards only. More fundamental obstacles had also been pointed out, such as different appraisal criteria for the geological significance of individual sites according to representatives of various countries (Cleal & al., 2001, in Gray, 2004, 192).
The emergence of this new program was also encouraged by the Malvern Conference’s explicit appeal for a geological equivalent to MAB’s Biosphere Reserve programme: William a. P. Wimbledon, the founding head of the Geosites programme and subsequently the executive secretary of ProGEO, emphasized the backwardness of geoconservation as compared to the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity: “Administrators, often biologists, preoccupied with biological interests, tend to overlook the conservation of geological sites and monuments, and it has to be admitted that geologists are not good at ‘selling’ geo(morpho)logy.” (Wimbledon & al. 2000, 69).
In the wake of GILGES, the main objective of the Geosites programme was also to draw up a list of geological sites of global significance. In the course of this programme, a database was drafted, which should serve not just for UNESCO programmes, but also for national conservation projects (Wimbledon & al., 2000, 69). Remarkably, the Geosites programme has sought to promote a “bottom-up” approach by encouraging geologists in various countries to contribute to the register (Gray, 2008, 193), so that the list was made up through scientific comparison of national inventories (Erikstad, 2008, 254). Cleal & al. (2001, 10, in Gray, 2008, 193) have pointed out that the aim “is not to search for token ‘best sites’: it is to identify natural networks of sites that represent geodiversity.”
An important development occurred in 2003 when the Global Geosite programme was given up for lack of financial support. The project was taken over through GEOSEE (Geoparks Approach: Science, Heritage, Communication, Socio-Economy and Education), created in 2003 as a joint UNESCO, IUGS and IGU (International Geographical Union) initiative with its permanent secretariat at the Chinese Academy of Geological Science in Beijing. “The main reason for creating GEOSEE was that there was a myriad of poorly coordinated, concurrent activities demonstrating the value of geological heritage and the beauty of landscapes to the public, and that these lacked any direct linkage to international geoscientific bodies such as IUGS and IGU. This was felt as a serious omission for IUGS, in particular as these were fine examples of geoscientific outreach, which was high on the IUGS agenda. GEOSEE […] was seen as an umbrella organization to coordinate and insert geoscientific knowledge into such activities. Moreover, it claimed a role in geoscience education, culture, communication and sustainable development. Through GEOSEE, IUGS would (finally) have a strategic position in these activities.” (IUGS EC56 Minutes 5.e.1)
Through its emphasis on “geoscience education, culture, communication and sustainable development”, the GEOSEE initiative was consistent with the Geopark initiative, but it too was ultimately suspended as of 2006 as being “overreaching”. IUGS, however, suggested that the initiative be relayed through the appointment of a “Communication Officer” with a view to “facilitating mutual communication between current activities, linking them with those in the scientific unions and contributing to their exposure to politicians”, on the grounds that “these tasks are currently not sufficiently well addressed by the Global GeoParks Network” (IUGS EC56 Minutes 5.e.1, 2005).
2. The institutionalization of geoparks
Our scrutiny of the records of UNESCO, GGN and IUGS allows us to identify three major stages in the institutionalization of the Global Geoparks label.
2.1 1996-2004: The emergence of a development-oriented geoheritage initiative and early negotiations towards a UNESCO label
Around the late 1990s, the geopark concept was developed within UNESCO and international geological communities as a new model for geoconservation. This new initiative was primarily designed to promote geosites of national significance, and to foster economic development through the promotion of geotourism (Patzak & Eder & Eder, 1999, in Gray, 2004, 194).
Several authors (Zouros 2004, 165; Mc Keever & Zouros 2005, 274; Zhao & Zhao 2003, 391) claim that the notion of geoparks emerged at the 30th International Geological Congress (Beijing, 1996). More specifically, Zhao Xun et Zhao Ting (2003, 391) indicate that the initiative was propounded in order to fill the gaps in the World Heritage programme and bypass obstacles to the advancement of geoprotection, namely insufficient finance, insufficient recognition of IUGS’s Global Geosites programme, which seldom succeeded in obtaining the attention of member Governments, and at last the “strict protection” concept which deprived local populations of their rightful access to natural resources, leading to poor cooperation and sometimes even opposition, occasionally resulting in increased destruction of geosites.
The inception of the EU’s own Development of Geotourism in Europe project (1997) as part of the LEADER (Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l'Économie Rurale) II programme appeared as a direct response to the “euro-geoparks” initiative presented at the same 30th International Geological Congress in 1996. The double focus of the new concept on the patrimonialization of geosites and local development, notably through geotourism, was confirmed in the 2000 Charter of the European Geopark Network (EGN), with an approach that included a methodology for rural development based on a such key factors as shared operation, pyramidal territorial development, innovation and cooperation.
Meanwhile, it appears that the process of institutionalization of the Geopark model within UNESCO remained a complicated affair. The organization’s archives document several attempts to establish an official programme dedicated to geological heritage, such as the International geosite reserves programme and the Global geosites/geoparks network.
In 1999, the Section on Earth Sciences and Geo-Hazards Risk Reduction (EGR) presented UNESCO with a new initiative under the name “UNESCO Geoparks programme”, initially envisioned as a separate entity intended to complement the World Heritage Convention and the MAB programme, in order to attract direct attention to geoconservation. The initial document “UNESCO Geoparks programme – a New Initiative to Promote a Global Network of Geoparks Safeguarding and Developing Selected Areas Having Significant Geological Features” (UNESCO 156 EX/11 Rev. 1999) defines the geopark concept as follows:
“As recommended by the expert meetings, a geopark will be a dedicated area enclosing features of special geological significance, rarity or beauty. These features need to be representative of the geological history of a particular area and the events and processes that formed it.” (UNESCO, 156EX/11 Rev. 1999, 2)
Three concrete objectives are set out to launch the programme within UNESCO: “the use of geological sites in educating the broad public at large and teaching in geological sciences and in environmental matters”; “their potential as a tool ensure sustainable development”; and “the conservation of the geological heritage for future generations.” (UNESCO, 160 EX/10, 2000, 2)
This UNESCO Geoparks programme initiative was subsequently examined, notably in a 2000 feasibility study conducted by Tony Weighell, a geoscience expert with the biodiversity and ecosystems department of the UK’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), in collaboration with the UNESCO secretariat, with contributions from a number of independent experts and in consultation with the scientific board of IGCP (UNESCO, 160 EX/10, 2000). In addition to the concern of UNESCO secretariat members that creating a new label might entail fragmentation of UNESCO programmes and spawn confusion with existing labels or even devalue the latter (UNESCO, 2000, 30C, 54), it seems that JNCC’s holistic, ecosystem-based approach to conservation may have weighed on the author’s choice to reject the idea of a new programme and turn instead to a more holistic approach:
“The feasibility study concludes that a ‘holistic’ approach (linking geology, biology, culture and economics) is not only consistent with effective conservation, but would also provide a more effective programme. The feasibility study recommends that the geoparks initiative should not be pursued as a separate programme.” (UNESCO, 160 EX/10, 2000, 3)
Therefore, rather than launching a new Geopark programme, UNESCO initially gave priority to integrating it in existing programmes. A combination with the World Heritage programme was initially set aside on the grounds that “while […] many sites of international, and ipso facto national, importance may not qualify for inscription on the World Heritage List, the same sites would certainly merit recognition using another mechanism.” (ibid., 4)
The IGCP representatives, for their part, withheld any contribution to the Geoparks programme initiative, other than technical expertise: “the business of IGCP is science, and this mandate should not be altered by the integration of a UNESCO Geoparks programme into IGCP.” (ibid.)
The study thus concluded that integrating geoparks in the MAB programme seemed the most appropriate option (see table 3 in the downloadable version at the bottom of the web page).
However, the proposal to include geoparks and geosites as a label of excellence within the MAB programme’s network of Biosphere Reserves failed to obtain support from MAB on several points. Besides the concern over extra administrative work and costs, and the lack of geoscientific expertise among MAB national committees, MAB bureau experts were mostly reluctant on the grounds that the multiplication of labels might result in confusion and devaluation of the Biosphere Reserve label.
Some delegates were more specifically concerned with “the essential difference between geosites (small sites of geological, scientific importance) and geoparks (larger areas, considered as expressing a relationship between people and geology, and serving as a focus for economic development)” and suggested that only geosites should be included among biosphere reserves, but not geoparks. (UNESCO, 161 EX/9, 2001, 2)
As a result, while failing to formalize an official Geoparks programme, UNESCO, since 2001, has offered its help to develop geoparks when specifically requested by Member States.
2.2 2004-2010: The independent development of geopark networks in Europe and Asia
Independently of UNESCO’s thwarted attempts to provide a specific label, the first decade of the new century witnessed a rapid growth of geoparks (see Table 4), both on global and regional scale, under the impulse of newly created regional networks such as the European Geopark Network (EGN, created in 2000) and China’s own governmental network. (Chinese geoparks would later be integrated in the Asia-Pacific Geoparks Network (APGN, created in 2009 after the European model.
In 2004, twelve European and eight Chinese geoparks assembled into a global network supported by UNESCO. Yet the operating mechanism and application procedure remained quite different for European or non-European candidates: for the latter, applications would be forwarded by each country’s UNESCO board to the Division of Earth Sciences at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, while the applications of European geoparks were submitted and evaluated directly by EGN, without going through national boards, pursuant to a 2001 agreement between EGN and UNESCO’s Division of Earth Sciences and the 2004 Madonie Declaration.
Nevertheless, with no financial support from UNESCO, geoparks were made to rely on the political agenda of Governments and/or local authorities for the long-term financial support required under GGN Operational Guidelines (2006, 2008), as well as for funding all expenses connected with their evaluation as GGN candidates. Whether or not such financial, administrative and/or scientific constraints on new applicants have hampered the creation of geoparks in less affluent countries, nearly all GGN-labelled territories appear to be located in either Europe or China, i.e. the two founding areas of GGN, as shown in the map below (http://www.globalgeopark.org).
2.3 2011-2015: UNESCO strives towards a more equitable global distribution of geoparks
In the face of the unequal distribution of geoparks across the planet, and particularly following a 2011 request by Uruguay calling for concrete support to foster a more equitable distribution, the issue of providing the Geoparks programme with an institutional foundation was back on the UNESCO agenda. In 2013, a Global Geopark working group was set up to discuss four options regarding the official linkage between GGN and UNESCO:
- (i) status quo,
- (ii) an NGO, to be formally associated to UNESCO for particular projects via a Memorandum of Understanding,
- (iii) an intergovernmental programme,
- (iv) an Initiative with a light administrative structure. (UNESCO, 2013, 192 EX/9).
The document summarizing the proceedings of the working group (UNESCO, 192 EX/9, 2013) shows consensus on two points: that the ad hoc relationship (option i) was less than optimal because of the minimal benefits for both UNESCO and the GGN; and that a Memorandum of Understanding with GGN as an NGO (option ii) was not viable because many geoparks were governmental.
As a result, the discussion focused on options (iii) and (iv), i.e. adjusting the administrative framework within UNESCO. The document highlights that the key issue in updating the Operational Guidelines was to “retain the light, bottom-up structure of the existing GGN, while giving Member States and UNESCO adequate oversight and control”. It also points to differences voiced regarding the new administrative framework to be set up. Most delegates favoured a light intervention of UNESCO, with minimal changes to the existing framework and extra costs, through the creation of an Advisory Board (class V) on similar lines as the Memory of the World programme. China accepted this proposal as a short-term objective, while suggesting that in the long term the Geoparks programme be developed into an intergovernmental structure. But this alternative failed to gain support from most participants, showing the tension between two different approaches to management: China’s, favouring centralized management as a way to provide the label with maximal recognition ; and that of the other Member States and geoparks experts, who were wary of hindrances involved with the implementation of a burdensome administration.
GGN was finally established as a NGO under French law in 2014. Later that year, the Stonehammer Declaration, its initial manifestation, would mark a fundamental breakthrough in setting directions for the construction of global geoparks. Three themes were particularly outlined:
- encouraging an equitable geographical development of Global Geoparks and thus supporting all efforts to expand Global Geoparks in those areas of the world that are currently under-represented in the GGN
- providing geo-scientific knowledge as a substantial element for nature conservation, geoheritage protection, environmental education, including natural disasters and climate change, geotourism development and proper management in geoparks
- highlighting respect for local traditions and desires as part of the new concept of geoparks, in keeping with the new theme of empowerment of local communities as one of the key ambitions of the International Geoscience and Geoparks Program (IGGP). (UNESCO, 2015, 196 Ex/5 Part I, 17)
The IGGP programme was eventually approved in November 2015 at the 38th session of the UNESCO General Conference, establishing the new UNESCO Global Geopark (UGG) label to cover all existing geoparks (UNESCO, 38 C/92 Rev. Annex I)
GGN geoparks integrated UNESCO under“Main line of action 4: Fostering international science collaboration for earth systems, biodiversity, and disaster risk reduction”, along with the MAB programme. “The UNESCO-supported Global Geoparks Network promotes the establishment of sites of outstanding geological value which are the basis of local sustainable development.” (UNESCO 37C/5, 2014, 95)
In addition to global geoparks embedding sustainable development issues, the 2014/2017 assessment of UNESCO programmeshasrecognized themin yet another capacity as a means of peace-building, especially in Africa and Latin America, which is congruent with the original mandate of UNESCO (Brianso & Girault 2014): “International collaboration to develop common pathways to manage the earth’s resources is central to the mandate of UNESCO in science, and not only contributes to sustainable development but also to building a culture of peace and dialogue.” (op. cit. 95). Accordingly, such performance indicators were set for UNESCO Global Geoparks as the “number of cross-border initiatives…supported by consultation and coordination within an appropriate cooperation and management framework” (op. cit., 146). As a result, the target for 2014/2017 called for creating at least 40 new global geoparks, including four cross-border geoparks, particularly in Africa and Latin America (UNESCO 37C/5, 2014, 96). The aim to create cross-border geoparks was also part of “Global Priority Africa” under “Flagship 1: Promoting a culture of peace and non-violence” and “Flagship 4: Fostering science for the sustainable management of Africa’s natural resources and disaster risk reduction” (UNESCO 37C/5, 2014).
However, this reference to peace-building in relation to geoparks is no longer mentioned in the Program and Budget for 2018/2019 (UNESCO 39 C/5, 2017), although cross-border geoparks are still one of the performance indicators for the UGG programme. On the other hand, two new themes are provided for in this new document:
- the management of natural resources is reassessed as a key issue for UGGs, which will be of crucial help to “reinforce the capacity of Member States to achieve sustainable management of their natural resources, with special attention to regions where UGGs are few or non-existent, notably Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, particularly in Small Insular Development States (SIDS).” As a result, the performance indicator for the programme no longer rests with the number of newly-created sites and cross-border sites, but rather with how many Member States create new UGGs, with a target of 16 Member States, including 2 in Africa (op. cit.).
- UNESCO designated sites (including World Heritage sites, biosphere reserves and Ramsar sites) are to become “education sites for an inclusive, global approach to environmental, economic and social aspects of sustainable development”. Two new performance indicators for UGGs are set out to this end: (1) using geoparks as demonstration sites for sustainable development solutions, with an emphasis on promoting vulnerable groups and gender equality; (2) using geoparks as a comprehensive network of observatories for resilience to climate change and natural hazards, making use of citizen science (op. cit., 102). It is worth noting that SIDS and Africa are mentioned as priority areas.
(See table 4 in the downloadable version at the bottom of the web page)
Actually, this second stage in the institutionalization of geological heritage could be seen not only in the groundwork leading to IGGP, itself a move to realign global geoparks with UNESCO’s threefold focus on education, science and culture, but has also been accompanied by increased attention from conservation communities. Since 2010, Patrick de Wever, a professor with the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and a member of the EU H2020GEOPARK programme, has been coordinating a GeoHeritage task group within the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), promoting geological heritage sites through surveys and legislation, while IUCN and the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) have set up a Geoheritage Specialist Group to work on the conservation of geoheritage in protected areas.
We believe that the institutionalization of the Global Geopark programme within UNESCO proceeded through three stages:
- 1990-2004: the advent of the Global Geopark initiative in the wake of the Geosite programme – a first, yet inconclusive attempt to integrate geoparks in the UNESCO agenda.
- 2004-2010: gradual, independent development of global geoparks, with a heavy geographical bias towards Europe and China.
- 2010-2015: renewed attempt to formalize the Global Geoparks programme to elicit better support from UNESCO.
This analysis of the institutionalization process tends to highlight the complexity of the advent of a UNESCO heritage label as a process of linkage and a mosaic of interrelated actions and events. In the background of the UNESCO label there looms a series of institutional actors fashioning heritage policies: various departments of UNESCO’s secretariat, IUGS as an epistemic community, GGN as a mixed-status NGO, as well as other regional (for Europe), national (for China) and territorial institutions. The complexity of their institutional practices exposes the system of relations and negotiations in which discourses and representations of various types of heritage (natural or cultural, tangible or intangible, biotic or abiotic, etc.) are propagated that, far from being uniform and consensual, convey widely different approaches and values regarding global nature management (Berliner and Bortolotto 2013).
The case of the UGG programme invites us to reassess UNESCO’s globalized and globalizing character, reconsidering its global/local and State/society dichotomies. Upon a close examination of the international patrimonialization policy reveals the “diversity and fluidity of form, function and malfunction” and of “the extent to which all states are internally divided and subject to penetration by conflicting and usually contradictory forces” (Bright and Harding 1984: 4). International heritage enhancement institutions cannot therefore be viewed as being disconnected from “local societies”, since they are themselves “composed of bundles of social practices that are every bit as ‘local’ in their social situatedness and materiality as any others.” (Durão & Seabra Lopes 2011). Ironically, while the process of institutionalization of geoparks, as effected through the UGG label, seems to induce global and/or local approaches, it actually implies the opposite, as we have shown (Du & Girault, in press) – i.e. that each UGG-label territory appears as a blended field of operation for negotiations and inter-scalar settlements between “ fabric-acteurs” and heritage items.
MNHN, Paris, France
Extrait de: Du, Yi, Girault, Yves, 2018. A Genealogy of UNESCO Global Geopark: Emergence and Evolution. International Journal of Geoheritage and Parks. 6(2): 1-17
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To cite this paper: Du, Yi, Girault, Yves, 2018. A Genealogy of UNESCO Global Geopark: Emergence and Evolution. International Journal of Geoheritage and Parks. 6(2): 1-17