UNESCO’s geoparks

For many years, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been putting important places around the Earth on the World Heritage List.

In 2006 there were 830 of them. Most are on the list for their role in human development: nothing wrong with that. But some are there for their natural attributes, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and the Galapagos Islands, politically part of Ecuador. In addition, another list of protected sites concentrates on Biosphere Reserves, mainly places with spectacular wildlife.

Now UNESCO is starting to name “Geoparks” sites of special geo-interest, around the world.To help them on their way, here are a few places that might feature.

In the Antarctic:

  • Mount Erebus a live volcano now endangered by being on the tourist map
  • Dome –° the world's darkest and clearest skies
  • The dry valleys ¬†just what the name implies, the nearest you can get to Mars without a rocket
  • The under-ice lakes the world s most unexpected environment

In Latin America:

In North America:

  • Major volcanoes of Washington State and region Mount St Helens and its more tranquil allies
  • Most of Alaska needs protecting from oil drilling
  • Deserts of the south-west unique archaeology as well as ecology
  • Chesapeake Bay the largest estuary in the US
  • Standbys such as Old Faithful, Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon

In Europe:

  • Jurassic coast of England spectacular scenery, and the birthplace of scientific palaeontology
  • Burnt-out volcanoes of the Auvergne, France now safe to visit but still a top place to see what volcanoes look like
  • Iceland at large a bit of mid-ocean ridge we can all visit
  • Glaciers of Norway may well be there when the Alps have lost theirs
  • Volcanoes of Italy Etna, Stromboli, Vesuvius and many others including Vulcano, which gave its name to the whole phenomenon

In Africa:

In Asia:

  • Mount Fuji, Japan under severe visitor pressure
  • Arctic Russia needs proper environmental protection
  • Everest the main routes are a rubbish tip Elsewhere:
  • Reefs and volcanoes of Hawaii unique mid-ocean volcanology

Many of these already have some sort of protection but all the evidence from other UNESCO citations is that its approval warns national governments, and other developers, of the potential for international uproar if they get it wrong.