Guarding our homeland - the earth
As residents of this planet, we have to face the fact that we have only one earth.
Geoparks, featuring rich geological heritage, are seen as one of the best means to preserve our common property, said Zhao Xun, a member of the world geopark assessment committee with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and former president of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.
Realizing the importance of geoparks, China is now at the forefront of geopark construction around the world, according to Zhao.
At present, China has 12 world geoparks, accounting for roughly one third of the global total of 33 sites.
With a vast landmass, complicated geological environment and varied climatic conditions, China possesses richly varied geological remains, some of which are unique on earth, Zhao told China Daily in a recent interview.
Focusing on national geoparks, a widespread network for geological remains protection has been built up in China, contributing substantially to sustainable development of geological resources.
As early as 1985, Chinese geologists proposed building national geoparks, to promote geological heritage preservation.
Two years later, the former Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources issued a related ministerial rule, and in 2000, the assessment institute for national geoparks began operations.
Over the past two decades, the number of national geoparks around the country has risen to 85.
"Building geoparks has a significantly positive effect on geological heritage protection and eco-environmental system restoration," geopark expert Zhao Xun said.
In the geoparks, local authorities have strengthened efforts to check abusive mining and lumbering.
Due to this, geological sites remain undamaged and worsened environment is recovering gradually.
As geological heritage is highly important from a scientific perspective, geoparks serve as a base for scientific research and geological education, Zhao said.
He added that local governments have invested heavily in or helped finance the search of new geological remains, specific study of geological sites, and construction of related exhibition facilities.
Varied means of presentation in exhibition sites, such as audio-visual devices, rock samples, illustrative texts and explanation by trained tour guides, help turn a geopark into a geological museum, making it a popular tourist destination, especially for youngsters.
In remote mountain areas, where comparatively intensified geo-resources survive intact, cost-effective geo-tourism is expected to give an impetus to the local economic development.
For instance, Yuntai Mountain National Geopark in Central China's Henan Province, known for waterfalls and a rift valley, earned 120 million yuan (US$15 million) from ticket revenue in 2004 alone.
The growth in tourism prompted rapid expansion of the service industry, attracting investment from home and abroad and creating more jobs for locals, who now appreciate the value of their geological heritage and help preserve it.
Concerted efforts in geological heritage preservation have also uplifted China's international status and exerted a far-reaching influence on geo-resources worldwide.
Because of China's outstanding performance in geopark construction and geo-heritage preservation, UNESCO decided to establish the World Geopark Internet Office in Beijing in 2003.
And in 2004, the first World Geopark Conference of UNESCO took place in the Chinese capital.
"We need to better improve the related legal system, compared to other countries," Zhao said.
A good legal system will provide solid ground for rational use of geological resources, he added.
In spite of clear stipulation in the constitution, specific laws and regulations on natural heritage, covering geo-heritage are inadequate under the present legal framework, he said, adding that studying foreign legislation on the subject will help progress in this direction.
"Some geological remains are fragile," he said, adding that some rare fossils and mineral crystals require special protection against erosion.
"Once these non-renewable resources are damaged by natural force or human activities, we and future generations will have to assume responsibility for the irretrievable loss."
Tourist arrivals beyond self-recovering capacity, also exert growing pressure on the ecosystem, polluting water, air and soil.
"We need to strengthen monitoring the quality of water and air, and build more environmental protection facilities," Zhao suggested.
Rational planning of geo-parks, strict control of abusive use of geological resources, and healthy growth of geo-tourism are interactive factors, he said.
"China has the largest number of international geoparks in the world. As we enjoy more resources, we shoulder greater responsibilities," noted Zhao.
(China Daily 03/17/2006 page6)
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