Geoparks Can Tell the History of Kazakhstan, Attract Tourism Dollars, says Geologist

In anticipation of Kazakhstan’s upcoming EXPO 2017, geologists are proposing creation of presentational complexes known as geoparks.

6c1a53f3fc9c1aad52e3683a554The potential geoparks will be several thousand times smaller versions of the natural surface of Kazakhstan, with major mineral deposits as well as life-size sculptures of the ancient inhabitants of our earth – dinosaurs, rhinos, mammoths, mastodons and others, situated exactly where paleontologists have found and studied their remains.

“At competent use, geoparks as objects of ecological tourism can make up a very significant part of the GDP,” said Professor Ilya Fishman, candidate of geological-mineralogical sciences and corresponding member of the Kazakh Academy of Mineral Resources.

In his words, the basic principle of ecotourism is that the more a monument has been preserved, the more income tourism will bring. Geological monuments can tell a lot of interesting things, as each of them is a window into the history of the earth. There is a well-known stamp, “the stone pages of history chronicle the planet.” German traditions of nature conservation come to mind. King Frederick William IV of Prussia, in order to save beautiful monuments of prehistoric times for descendants, not just published a special decree in the nineteenth century aimed at preserving the geological monuments, he bought the land from the landowners where they were located.

His asceticism had the most favourable continuation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who Fishman referred to as the brightest politician of today, was recently one of the leaders of the environmental movement in Germany and published a lot of materials on the topic of ecotourism.

How did the concept of geoparks occur?

In the mid-1990s the leaders of a number of European National Parks in France, Spain, Germany and Greece, recognising the negligible attention paid to geological heritage, came up with the concept of the geopark in order to further its promotion. This idea was supported by UNESCO and today the number of geoparks is increasing throughout the world. The basis of a geopark is an inanimate nature; in other words, geological heritage in the form of scenic rocks, in which events of a distant geological past are clearly presented. Many geoparks can be opened in the so-called SPNT (specially protected natural territories), wherein the first does not tear away from the second, but helps to reveal the essence of the geological history, thus attracting additional tourists. There are countries whose income from tourism is equal to the income from all the mineral complexes of our republic. Moreover, the significant portion of visited sites accounted for ecotourism. Some time ago, I drew up an object map of the ecotourism surroundings of Almaty. These were forests, cades, waterfalls, peaks, passes, climbing walls, points for hang gliding and so on. Each of these objects is a national treasure. In order to make rules for its use, I proposed introducing the concept of “the object of tourism” into the law on tourism. Alas, it remained as a proposal.

Nowadays, information about the establishment of geoparks is available, though dissemination of the idea in Kazakhstan needs support. In 2012 prior to the 34th session of the international geological congress in Australia, in which Kazakhstan participated, my daughter Julia Kazakova and I published an album, “Geoparks in Kazakhstan Millions of Years before the Silk Road,” which attracted great attention from the participants of the congress. The same year, Kazakhstan held an international meeting “Potential of the Earth and People,” which focused heavily on geoparks. In the 1990s we created the first database of Kazakhstan’s geological heritage. With the assistance of the database, the government approved a list of valuable geological objects in 2005.

How can the acknowledgment of geological parks as an integral part of ecotourism benefit Kazakhstan?

It will promote solving several issues at the same time preserve nature, advance living standards of locals through creating new jobs and advocate studying natural science. International experience shows that with successful advertisement, geoparks quickly become profitable. However, the first steps should receive economic and management support from the government. Geoparks can be opened in all regions of Kazakhstan, event in the depressed ones.

And one more thing referring to tourism, an issue of allocating funds for infrastructural development (building roads, etc.) emerges. Interestingly, UNESCO polls found that 70 percent of tourists did not need commodity. With their security ensured and access to healthy food provided, they agreed to travel on bad roads and live in tents (or yurtas). Development of geoparks all over the world starts by attracting tourists with low demands. They bring money for establishing luxurious hotels and roads in the future. The main thing is to disseminate information. Tourism has a law to earn a million, spend a million on information.

You mentioned that every monument of nature is a chronicle of the earth’s history. What do scientists manage to read in it?

It says that if we want to know our future, we must look at our past. All the disasters, which occurred in the course of 4.5 billion years of the earth’s existence, are written down in this record. They do not happen very often, about once every 100-200 million years. As a result, there have been mass extinctions of kinds and classes, but life never ceases completely. The most famous example is the extinction of dinosaurs, which occurred 70 million years ago. The reason was a huge asteroid. Its blast raised a huge amount of dust in the air. The sun was darkened; darkness embraced the planet. When it dissipated, the dinosaurs were gone. These cold-blooded creatures were warmed only by the heat of the sun.

Danger to life can come from the depths of the earth as well. Thus, between the Permian and Triassic periods (about 250 million years ago), a big quantity of magma and gas rose to the earth’s surface and even caused a change in the atmosphere. It was an environmental disaster, but even after that life on earth continued.

Now people are talking about the threat of global climate change. A well-known public figure, for example, called for the whitening of the rocks near Almaty in order to prevent it.

There is no global warming; in fact there are only short-term temperature fluctuations, the contribution of man to which, fortunately, is negligible. But we are, as always, exaggerating our own role; humanity has not yet become a super-civilisation able to split or seriously affect the life that planet earth has been living for 4.5 billion years already. It develops under its own laws; a human being appeared just a second ago, compared with its age. A human can be called the king of nature only in one sense; only a person is able to explore the history of the earth and make it into the incorrect conclusions.

Former U.S. presidential candidate and Nobel laureate Al Gore, who published a famous book on this topic, “An Inconvenient Truth”, have played a large role in stocking the concerns over global warming. As for the rocks near Almaty, why shouldn’t they be whitened if somebody is willing to pay for it?

What do you think of the opinion that the uncontrolled use of the subsurface is fraught with tectonic consequences?

I think that in 99.9 percent of cases, the cause of earthquakes is the normal development of the earth, and only 0.1 percent, just in case, I leave to anthropogenic influence. I work on the tectonics of the Aral-Caspian region. It turns out that these two seas – the Aral and Caspian – are tectonically linked through great depths of the earth. But it would be primitive to say that the water is poured from one sea to another. In this system, dozens of complex geological processes, which still have not been fully explored, are involved. One thing is clear fluctuations in the levels of these seas existed in prehistoric times, before the appearance of a human being. The fault of the latter in these processes, as well as in climate change, is negligible. It’s like sitting in a tiny little fragile boat, trying to go astray of a powerful battleship.

Many people who live in Almaty are waiting for an earthquake. Linking the two events – in 1911 and May 2011 – some scholars argue that there is some mystical predetermination in the figure 100.

When was the last earthquake before 1911? Right, in 1887. I agree that the development of the earth is cyclical, but it is measured in tens of millions of years. Those minor earthquakes that occurred in Almaty and in the vicinity of the city on May 1, 2011 are a normal result of the Ili depression, which is well traced deep into the geological history of about 30 million years. If to correlate this with the age of our planet, on the earth dial plate one million is just a second. Generally, with regard to the prediction of earthquakes, the science is still in the way; the system able to accurately predict the time of the seismic event has not been created yet. There was some good luck, but they were immediately replaced by failures; in other words, this is more about the theory of probability.

Now a number of serious scientists talk about some activation of the subsurface; it is more likely that a global catastrophe in the next 5-10 million years will not happen. In any case, the answer to the question about the future of the planet should be found in its past, i.e. to invest more in the science of geology.

Indeed this phenomenon occurs, but it is still poorly understood. The answer to it can give only science. But everyone eventually asks money for his or her own business. I am no exception. However, in any case, the decision must be made, comparing risks with cost. To be warned is to be saved.