If the Bonavista Peninsula had ears, they'd be burning.
When John Norman spoke about the aspiring Discovery Geopark at a recent geoconference in Portugal, Patrick McKeever, the chief of global earth observation for UNESCO, was already aware of the plans.
"There is chatter on the global stage and that is another key reason why you have to have a presence at these types of conferences. You have to be known; a geopark doesn't just fall out of the sky overnight," Norman told the Packet.
And that is precisely why Norman was there - to spread the word that a geopark is planned for the Bonavista Peninsula and to take away knowledge that can be applied to it.
The 11th annual European Geoparks Conference was held a few weeks ago within the geopark in Arouca, a small, rural municipality in Portugal.
Geologists, geophysicists, researchers and managers of geoparks were all in attendance.
Norman spoke with representatives from various geoparks around the world to understand how they operate, financially and otherwise. He also made some key connections in the global geopark community while he was there.
There are two geoparks in Portugal, out of 88 in the world. The majority of geoparks are in Europe and Asia, with the European geopark network being the largest in the world.
The European Union financially supports geoparks in a lot of its countries, said Norman.
"They've invested a significant amount of money at some of these geoparks, and I think that's going to be one of the key differences that you'll see here."
There is only one Geopark in North America - Stonehammer Geopark in Saint John, New Brunswick.
A big challenge, not only for the aspiring Discovery Geopark but for other future Canadian geoparks, will be the need to come up with creative ways to not only achieve geopark status, but to mold the Canadian geoparks model and build a network, said Norman.
The Canadian government is not likely to give large donations to geoparks like European countries do, so any aspiring geopark will need to show they can operate without large financial support and inflows of cash, he said.
"What we need to do is understand how we can operate differently, in a more fiscally-restrictive manner, and also involve the corporate sector, which I think will play a major role as we move forward."
The oil and gas industry in Newfoundland is just one area, and a small piece of the corporate responsibility should involve public education of how those resources were formed here, said Norman.
A lot of work
Geoparks are a grassroots project, said Norman. There has to be a lot of interest in order to get one up and running, and then once it's established, there is specific criteria to follow.
"There's a lot of work; it takes years to get geopark status."
Norman said the aspiring Discovery Geopark's steering committee has been working for years - since 2005.
He said they are planning to have an operational geology trail up and running for the 2013 tourism season.
"Within that system you will have 8 to 10 sites that then will become, over time, hopefully by the following year 2014, our geopark."
A geopark works in a "show me, don't tell me" manner. In other words, you have to prove you are worthy of geopark status before you get it, said Norman.
"One of the key ways you become a geopark is by operating as though you are a geopark without the title."
The criteria for becoming a geopark, which falls under the UNESCO umbrella, includes, but is not limited to: the rarity of fossils at the site, public education and consultation, quality of interpretation and protection and legislation of the sites.
These criteria must be kept up or a geopark can lose its status.
The designation of a certain area as a geopark puts it on the world stage for researchers, said Norman.
"The Bonavista-Port Union area is already on the world stage when it comes to geology."
Researchers have been coming to Port Union every summer for a numbers of years now from top schools around the world, he said.
The Bonavista Peninsula stands out from other fossil deposit locations around the world in that its fossils are some of the oldest.
"Our fossils are impressive not so much in scale but in rarity and in scientific distinction. You can't find these fossils just anywhere. Ediacaran fossils, no matter where they're found, are rare because they are the oldest complex life forms."
Some are between 560- to 565-million-years-old.
"It represents a very different time in the Earth's history, when Newfoundland wasn't Newfoundland and the rocks that we see jutting out over in Port Union and in Elliston were actually the seabed. They were made of silt and mud and volcanic ash encased these life forms and preserved their shapes and dimensions for us to view now."
A key message from UNESCO at the geoconference was the past, present and future, and that a geopark must represent all three, said Norman.
A geopark can teach the public endless knowledge about their geological history, natural environment, how geology molds society, as well as natural hazards like slope failure and coastline erosion, which the Bonavista Peninsula has real examples of, and which Norman noted in his presentation at the geoconference.
The goal is to educate and excite the public about geology and earth science through these real-life examples, as well as images and small, simplified descriptions about the history of the land, said Norman.
"The purpose of a geopark is to make it exciting and interesting to everyone, from the five-year-old to the 85-year-old and everyone in between."
The next step for the Discovery Geopark steering committee will be public engagement and public presentations at various communities they hope to involve in the process, said Norman.
"What we will be doing is presenting on next year's plan of a geological trail, and how that will move into an aspiring geopark and then a UNESCO-supported global geopark in years to come."
The next geoconference will be in Stonehammer in Saint John, New Brunswick in 2014. Norman and representatives from the Discovery Geopark will attend.