Every two years one of the UNESCO Global Geoparks (UGGp) in the Global Geoparks Network (GGN) hosts a conference to share and exchange information, experience and knowledge among UNESCO Global Geoparks and professionals. This year’s conference was held near M’Goun UNESCO Global Geopark in Morocco from 7 - 11 September 2023 with the theme "UNESCO Global Geoparks Developing Communities".
A team of four from the Waitaki Whitestone UNESCO Global Geopark had the privilege to attend this year’s conference and to represent New Zealand’s first and Australasia’s only UNESCO Global Geopark. The team included Chair Helen Jansen, both Te Rūnanga o Moeraki Trustees Mauriri McGlinchey and Tk Buchanan and Geopark Manager Lisa Heinz. The conference included a Geopark exhibition and a range of different presentations and workshops on the following topics:
Geodiversity and biodiversity management: studies, protection and popularization
Conservation and valorization of geological heritage sites
Education with simplification of scientific knowledge accessible to the general public
Sustainable tourism and local development
Geoparks and implementation of sustainable development goals
Geoparks, tangible and intangible cultural heritage
Climate change, combating desertification and natural disasters
Sharing of experiences and cooperation between Geoparks
Due to a 6.8 earthquake during the conference parts of the programme had to be adjusted, including the planned field trip to M’Goun UGGp which was cancelled, and the funds donated to support disaster relief efforts. The earthquake was a devastating event for the region and local community and the team’s thoughts are with those families affected by this natural disaster. The safety of the participants was the top priority for the organising committee and GGN and they provided great support, including support for finding alternative accommodation. UGGp have a crucial role in promoting awareness of geological hazards, including volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, and many help prepare disaster mitigation strategies among local communities. This event showcased the importance of this role within UGGp.
Even under difficult circumstances after the earthquake, the organising committee managed to hold the closing ceremony and present the official GGN certificates to new and revalidated UGGp. This was a special moment for the team and the manager proudly accepted the certificate and trophy on behalf of the Waitaki Whitestone UGGp.
The main objective of attending this conference was to network and learn from the experience of other well experienced Geopark professionals. This aim was fulfilled by making many international connections with colleagues from across the world. The team was also able to attend GGN meetings and the General Assembly. It was apparent that there is a drive to move the GGN forward after the pivoting to virtual after the Pandemic. In addition, the team would like to acknowledge the remarkable amount of work that was done to maintain momentum by Geoparks during the Pandemic.
Besides the general networking opportunity, the numerous presentations of Geopark professionals on the range of topics mentioned above were very helpful in learning more about projects and problem solving in other Geoparks. Some ideas from these sessions to be explored by the Waitaki Whitestone UGGp team include:
Geopark Passport to encourage further visitation
Strategies for involving those with disabilities in tours of the Geopark
Infrastructure and management of self-guided Geotrails as an informal education mechanism
Activities and events to engage community in climate change challenges
Reporting against the Sustainable Development Goals
Geopark Guide Training and Ambassador programme Academy
Effective engagement with government officials and local businesses
The Waitaki Whitestone Geopark Trust would like to thank the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO and Te Rūnanga o Moeraki for providing financial support towards the cost and participation of this conference.