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Nature of neglect: On Chinese geoparks

By Xu Ming (Global Times)

11:16, January 22, 2013

Zhangjiajie Geopark (

Winning World Heritage status is not the end of the race

For lovers of natural scenery, Zhangjiajie Geopark is an ideal choice. The park, located in northwestern Hunan Province, became particularly famous after it claimed association with the film Avatar, saying the majestic scenes in the film were inspired by its unique landscape. Around major mountains in the park are introductions boasting of their presence in the film, attracting numerous visitors to have a look.

The advertisement is successful, but the explanation of the geopark is apparently not satisfactory to UNESCO. Recently, the UN organization issued warnings to three Chinese geoparks, including Zhangjiajie Geopark, Mount Lushan Geopark and Wudalianchi Geopark, saying that they fall short of expectations in promoting scientific knowledge to the public. They are reported to be in danger of getting expelled from the list of Global Geoparks if no improvement is made before 2014.


The warnings came to public sight early this month after UNESCO conducted evaluations at the three scenic spots that appear on the list of the Global Geoparks Network (GGN). Initiated by UNESCO in 2000, the GGN aims to select over 500 sites of special geological features around the world to enhance protection.

But the laurel does not automatically include lifetime tenure. Every four years, UNESCO evaluates the GGN members and examines how they are doing in preserving geological relics and spreading scientific knowledge.

The three geoparks were the first among Chinese parks to enter the list in 2004. They are major tourist attractions in China known for their unique geological features. For example, Mount Lushan Geopark boasts geological relics of the quaternary glacier and other special topographic features that are valuable in scientific research. Becoming global geoparks has made the three parks globally known.

But as Xinhua News Agency reported, after assessing the Wudalianchi Geopark last year, the experts invited by UNESCO concluded that in order to meet standards the park has much more to do when it comes to spreading scientific knowledge and communicating externally. Zhangjiajie Geopark and Mount Lushan Geopark reportedly have similar problems.

"A geopark must provide and organize support, tools and activities to communicate geoscientific knowledge and environmental and cultural concepts to the public," according to the guidelines and criteria for GGN status.

"Scientific education should be the basic function of a geopark. But most Chinese geoparks are not doing well in providing sufficient knowledge about the geological phenomena, which demands huge manpower and time and does not directly impact profits," Fang Shiming, a professor with China University of Geosciences, told the Global Times.

He said that Hong Kong Geopark is doing much better in this regard. "They spent much more time and energy in writing the explanation, and even took it to middle and primary schools to make sure it is readable."

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