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Dec 2015 - Geoparks and Green Mines

Geoparks and Green Mines

You may not have heard of a geopark, because despite Australia's geological historical potential for them, Australia does not have any, probably because one of the key criteria to qualify is government funding.  Australia apparently tried to have one but UNESCO disqualified it for failing to meet requirements (probably government funding), and one of Italy's 9 geoparks was recently yellow carded for having lost government support.

You may not have heard of a geopark, because despite Australia's geological historical potential for them, Australia does not have any, probably because one of the key criteria to qualify is government funding. Australia apparently tried to have one but UNESCO disqualified it for failing to meet requirements (probably government funding), and one of Italy's 9 geoparks was recently yellow carded for having lost government support. At the China Mining conference in Tianjin in October 2015, a whole morning of sessions was devoted to geoparks, because in China they are big business.

To put it into perspective, construction is often ongoing with China having spent RMB33.8bn (~A$6.5bn) to the end of 2014 in 185 national geoparks covering a geoheritage area of 116,000sqkm, containing ~200 geological museums, with ~1700 publications of which so far ~10 million have been printed. There are over 200 scientific research bases applying funds of RMB2.76bn (~A$550m), from which over 3,094 research papers have been published with current support for 1,751 post graduates in the geoparks. Some 540 projects have been completed and 175 are in progress.

By 2013, China's geoparks have had 1.233trn tourist visits, with RMB50.6bn (A$10bn) in ticket revenue, and RMB596.2bn (~A$100bn) in total revenue, with 141.8m tourist visits in 2010, ticket income of RMB6.7bn(A$1.3bn), and total revenue of RMB56.7bn (~$11.3bn). China even had a TV series about living in a geopark.

China's has 33 internationally or globally rated geoparks (out of the world's total of ~150 in 33 countries - there are 2 in North America, 2 in South America and 3 in Africa). A few presentation examples were given such as the Fangshan geopark has 59 new permanent geotourism job positions, contains 196 hotels and is serviced by ~300 tourist agencies. While the Guangdong geopark in eastern Guangdong contains an oceanic subtropical area, pothhole park, granitic areas, waterfalls and hot springs, and a 4A rated area of scenic greenery.

Provincial approval for the Guangdong geopark was given in 2011/2012 and in its first year (2012), revenue was regarded as relatively low at only RMB40m (A$8m), so the private sector was encouraged to participate and local government regulations changed, resulting in increased infrastructure (roads and car parks) and buildings according to specified guidelines together with a material geological minerals exhibition hall / building over an area of 28,000sqm as shown in the Figure.

The Guangdong geopark is regarded as a high end boutique park with corporate companies renting buildings and facilities, and tourist revenue expected to increase to ~RMB233m (~A$46m) per year in 2017 of which 20% of the gate receipts go towards protection and investment in the geopark.

The Alxa desert geopark in northern China's Inner Mongolia province is surrounded by 3 deserts and is a mixture of green lakes, deserts with the highest sand dunes in China, and plains. There are lakes in the deserts, black mudbaths, wineries and grapes, plus extensive forests, Buddhist temples, volcanic magma, Alxa precious stones (mostly agates) and strange geological structures. Alxa also has a temple museum covering a historical period of "only" ~3000 years.

Closer to Beijing is the Yangxing geopark that was officially granted in September 2013, and has a famous anticline, petrified woods and dinosaur footprints, and has received 19.7m visitors and income of RMB400m (~A$80m). On the last National holiday, Yangqing received ~385,000 tourists, of which 41,600 were in the Lu valley, with revenue of RMB7.44m (A$3.7m).

Geoparks have evolved in China in more than the past 30 years initially as geotourism from 1978 to 1985, with the National System of Geotourism from 1986 to 1991 which recognised that it required qualification, and from 1992 to 2000 involved ~6,000 geologists in 120 countries with in 2000 the first generation of geotourism graduates. China's first geopark was in Shandong province in 1999, followed by 11 granted in China in 2001, mostly east and west. China has been subdivided into 3 geological areas, being the eastern lakes, plains and coast; middle mountains; and western high mountains and plains.

Now, China is up to the 4th generation of geotourism graduates, which requires 2 years of geoscience study at university, followed by specialisation in geotourism. Visitors can see how volcanoes, plains and landforms occur with practical examples, along with fossilised examples such as petrified trees or dinosaur footprints. An example was shown of the various constructions that had occurred over the past ~30 years to protect a fossilised part of a tree in a geopark.

In 2011, the latest trend of geoparks has started with the new regulatory guideline format occurring from 2015 comprised of 17 international members of which 8 are from China, which will require 2 years to achieve approval and a restricted maximum of 2 new geoparks that can be added per year. The panel members have to visit each park and re-evaluate it so as to maintain the required standards specified by UNESCO. The next approvals are scheduled for April 2017 with final grant to be made in September 2017. The next major geopark conference is to be held in Paris in February 2016.

The session was an eye-opener for what potential could exist in Australia, all it would require is government backing geology (and to some degree mining) instead of thinking of a new way of taxing it.

The ABC TV had an interesting programme (Back Roads on 7 December 2015) on volunteers paying to dig for dinosaur bones on a farm near Winton in Queensland, with a museum partly funded by the local council, which is at least a step in the right direction, and there are of course the geocaches.

One sees little in the media about China having driven the international development of geoparks within its own country, yet alone the world, and jointly funded by governments. Another area partly funded by China's government has of course been the green mines projects (which have been included in earlier columns of Paydirt).

Green mines initially refered to the process of converting old mine worked areas into recreational green parks funded mostly by government together with the various companies involved, and has continued with mines maintaining a "green standard" of environmental acceptance. There are a number of examples amongst the now >500 green mines in China, such as the sandy beach resort in Shandong province shown in the Figure.

China has clearly shown the way how government involvement in promoting and funding aspects of geology and mining can result in significant financial benefit to communities, tourism and the environment, instead of trying to find a way to get "more blood (tax) out of the mining stone".

Disclosure and Disclaimer : This article has been written by Keith Goode, the Managing Director of Eagle Research Advisory Pty Ltd, (an independent research company) who is a Financial Services Representative with Taylor Collison Ltd (AFSL 247083).

Figure. Geoparks and Green Mines
gmjdecfig1

  • Written by: Keith Goode
  • Wednesday, 12 October 2016

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