Canadian cliffs and fossils land in the world spotlight. Here’s why

Two sites in Atlantic Canada have been recognized as new UNESCO Global Geoparks, a designation that recognizes sites and landscapes of international geological significance.

The Cliffs of Fundy Global Geopark in Nova Scotia stretches along a roughly 165-kilometre drive, with about 40 designated sites from Debert to the Three Sisters cliffs past Eatonville, out to Isle Haute. The area is the only place on Earth where geologists can see the assembly of supercontinent Pangea 300 million years ago and its breakup 100 million years later.

The Discovery Global Geopark on Newfoundland and Labrador’s Bonavista Peninsula, a rugged coastline overlooking views of caves, arches and sea stacks, features fossils from what UNESCO describes as “one of the most significant transitions in Earth’s history” — the rise of animal life.

The two parks are among 15 new Global Geoparks approved by UNESCO at meetings in Paris and announced on July 10.

“I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit these outstanding places,” said Nikolaos Zouros, president of the UNESCO Global Geoparks Network, who came to visit both sites last year from his home in Lesvos Island, Greece.

“We collect pieces of information about this unique book of the story of our planet. These do not belong only to the people of Canada but [are] an important piece of evidence for the whole of humanity.”

The announcement is a point of pride for those involved in Nova Scotia. It also signals the beginning of more work left to do to make sure the designation does what they want it to do — bring tourists to the area and boost the local economy.

“The beauty of the designation is that it immediately puts you on the world stage,” said Beth Peterkin, manager of the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark. “It will let us reach audiences we could never, ever reach on our own.”

The New Brunswick side of the Bay of Fundy is already designated as the Stonehammer Geopark, located at the confluence of the Saint John and Kennebecasis rivers.

The Discovery Geopark was recognized, in part, for the Ediacaran fossils that can be found in the area. These fossils — some of which can be accessed from the boardwalk in Port Union — are an estimated 560 million years old, and show some of the earliest multi-cell organisms.

“With over 20 [organisms] present, these enigmatic fossils record the oldest architecturally complex multicellular lifeforms, providing a window to study the preface to the Cambrian Explosion,” wrote the UNESCO Global Geoparks Council in nomination papers.

“The Geopark preserves a dramatic transition in Earth history.”

Fossils for the Haootia quadriformis, believed to be the first example of muscle tissue in an animal, were found just two kilometres from Port Union’s museum.
“For most researchers who come here,

Newfoundland is the best place in the world to come to do the research, because we’re so easy and accessible to the fossils,” said Edith Samson, a longtime volunteer with the local Geopark committee.

SOURCE

—Emma Davie, Emily Chung, CBC

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