Mistaken Point applying for UNESCO status

Successful application means defending viability of site

Published on May 29, 2012
Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve. –Photo submitted by Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism.

An application requesting UNESCO World Heritage Site status for Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is in the process of being compiled.

It is scheduled to be submitted Feb. 1, 2014 for formal evaluation.

Richard Thomas is manager of the ecological reserve and presented an overview of some of the highlights of Mistaken Point, and the challenges facing its run for world heritage site status, at the conference of Canadian geologists and mineralogists at the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre in St. John's.

The conference continues through this evening.

In a session partly looking at the preservation of our geological heritage, Thomas noted the very rare Edicara biota fossils found at Mistaken Point - fossils of the Earth's oldest complex life forms - require vigilant protection from damage and loss.

The province has stepped in on this point, he said, strengthening legislative protection for the fossils (the Fossil Ecological Reserve Regulations). Thomas said having such legislative protections benefits the site's UNESCO application, as the body prefers to acknowledge sites with existing protections.

The boundaries of the ecological reserve were expanded in 2009 to protect additional fossil finds.

The RCMP and local residents have acted as watch for attempts at fossil theft, as was the case on at least one occasion, Thomas said, wherein a team acting on behalf of an American collector were caught in the act of using a diamond drill to cut a block of fossils from the ground.

Yet the many legal visitors to the site each year also pose a risk- with measures already having to be taken to prevent the erosion, the rubbing, of some of the fossils by the feet of visitors walking over them.

Today, the identified fossil sites can be toured with a guide only and typically require what Thomas referred to as "very fashionable blue booties" to cover the feet.

While there are 936 designated world heritage sites as of last month, Thomas said, the collection is skewed to cultural sites.

There are 12 recognized fossil sites worldwide. Of those, four are in Canada.

The trick with Mistaken Point, according to Thomas, will be to complete the application for status with no dedicated funding for the process and, within that application, show how the site will be preserved for generations to come.

Aside from the pure acknowledgment and research funding the designation may assist in leveraging in future, added tourism is sure to accompany a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, according to Thomas.

"You designate it, they will come," he said.