It will be several months before its known whether the Bonavista Peninsula will be the fourth location in North America to be designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark.
The evaluators will make a final decision and announcement in the Spring of 2020.
Meanwhile, there’s a sense of optimism and anticipation among members of the Discovery Aspiring Geopark Inc. (DAGI), the group created to help realize the Geopark vision.
One of the main discoveries over the course of the process of becoming a Global Geopark was the discovery of Haootia quadriformis fossils in Port Union.
The musculature fossils, millions of years old, are exceptional in their scientific importance and distinctive nature.
At the 2019 DAGI annual general meeting in Bonavista on Nov. 26, Dr. Duncan McIlroy, a paleontologist with Memorial University expounded on Haootia's importance.
He called the Haootia exceptionally important in science, namely for what these organisms tell scientists.
“It’s one of the most important fossils anywhere in the world,” said McIlroy.
He also stressed the importance of protecting them.
He says people will try to steal or damage fossils of great value — with many cases of this happening already recorded.
Provincial legislation is currently in place protecting the fossils, encouraging people within the communities to be stewards and protectors of their valuable resource for the geopark.
McIlroy’s own passion for the fossils and the area was evident in his address to the AGM.
“I love it here,” he said. “And this (fossil site), this is truly internationally important.”
Kathi Stacey of Legendary Coasts also spoke at the AGM.
She detailed the geological network existing in the eastern part of Newfoundland and Labrador — through areas like the UNESCO World Heritage Site Mistaken Point, Fortune Head, Bell Island, St. Lawrence and more. This includes a destination development plan which she highlighted.
“We’re very rich in geology here in the eastern region and there are world renowned fossils,” explained Stacey. “It’s a very magical and unique geological landscape as we all know. There are cultural connections to place, to a way of life and to its people that are part of sites where the fossils and geology exist.”
In their efforts to become a Geopark, DAGI had a site evaluation by UNESCO officials in July.
Board chair John Norman and project coordinator Amanda McCallum attended the Asia Pacific Geoparks Network meeting in Indonesia in September.
A final decision has been made on designations, but the official announcement won't come until later.
The group is now awaiting what they hope will be good news for the Bonavista Peninsula in the new year, as the decision will not be made public until April 2020.
A designation as a UNESCO Global Geopark would but them in some very elite company.
“Just to give you an idea, there are 147 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 41 countries around the globe. Only three are designated as geoparks in North America … It’s a very small group that we hopefully will be joining,” board member Jim Miller noted at last week’s AGM.
“We look forward to continuing to work together for the benefit of this region,” added Miller. “And we look forward to announcing come spring that we have designation achieved.”