National evaluators met on the Bonavista Peninsula recently to tour a number of sites associated with a proposed geopark in the region.
Visitors take a close-up look at Port Union fossils near the Coaker Foundation boardwalk. — Photo by Deanne Hiscock/The Packet
The visit, which took place during the final weekend of September, was held by the Discovery Aspiring Geopark Steering Committee and was attended by geologists, interested parties and members of the Canadian National Committee for Geoparks.
“We’ve got a bedrock of geologists,” explained John Norman, spokesman for the local committee.
During the weekend the visitors took a look at the fossils in Port Union, root cellars in Elliston, the Spillar’s Cove dungeon, Brook Point in King’s Cove, the Devil’s Footprints in Keels and the Sea Arch in Tickle Cove.
TC Media met up with the group at the Sea Arch on the final day of tours to see how the weekend had progressed.
Alana Hinchey works with the Department of Natural Resources for the geographical survey and said she sits on the committee as an adviser to help move projects along.
Hinchey said she was very pleased.
“It was an excellent weekend. A great opportunity to showcase the geology that is so well preserved on the Bonavista Peninsula,” she said.
Hinchey gave a sense of what touring the sites of the geopark would be like as she explained why the rocks at Tickle Cove have their unique colour.
“The rocks here are red because of iron and the oxidation of iron. So in other places, where the iron is reduced, the rocks will be green in colour. It’s just a play between the amount of oxygen that is in the sea at the time and whether or not they turn red with a lot of oxygen or reduced to make it a greener colour,” Hinchey said.
Joanna McDonald, owner of the Eagles Cliff Cottages in Open Hall, joined the group for other reasons.
“Myself and Jeannette Fitzgerald, who grew up here in Tickle Cove, are trying to open a coffee shop next year just on the boundary between Red Cliff and Tickle Cove. So this is the perfect thing to be involved in.
“I was at the meal last night and they asked if I could come along today,” said McDonald.
McDonald, who grew up in Scotland, said she has seen the benefits of geoparks in the community.
“From my understanding, you could have all kinds of different themed activities and presentations and even food connected to the fossils and explaining the natural history of the area.”
Norman said the evaluators gave valuable information and feedback, and helped point out things that were lacking.
More than 40 people attended a networking night including operators, government representatives and members of the geopark committee.
Norman said the meeting targeted local businesses as well as the evaluators, letting business owners know they have a role to play.
He said the geopark could appeal to artists as well. A couple of ideas that were thrown around were to have exhibits on rock formations or bring in groups of photographers.
The local committee is becoming more formalized with its application and members are working on branding.
The themes will focus on the local geology, like the 600-million-year history of the coastline.
Bedrock geologist Baxter Kean from St. John’s said his role was as consultant and guide for the national evaluators.
Kean echoes Norman’s sentiments on focusing on the underlying theme or storyline for the proposed geopark being 600 million years of life by the sea.
“Obviously human life hasn’t been that long, but fossils preserved in the rocks in the Port Union, Catalina and Little Catalina area are of soft-bodied marine animals that are 580 million years old,” he said.
Kean said these animals lived in deep marine and continental slope environment, much like the scenario that you have on the slope and the deep waters off the Grand Banks today.
“These fossils are called Ediacaran fossils, and represent the first signs of complex animal life. It’s a 90-million-year period of time in which life suddenly changed from microscopic to creatures that resemble modern day sea pens. It was a significant change in the evolution of the Earth and life on Earth,” he said.
Kean said the proposed geopark also contains fossils that demonstrate the explosion of life during the Cambrian period — 540 million years ago — when hard-bodied animals appeared.
Overall, Norman deems the tour a success.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the national evaluators and we know exactly where we have to go for our next steps toward accomplishing our goal in establishing a geopark on the Bonavista Peninsula.”