Taiwan Geoparks Network in a nutshell
History of development
There are many places around the world with uniquely geological and geographical values but are not included in the World Heritage list. Therefore, to enhance conservation and sustainable development, in 1997, the National Geopark UNESCO initiated the concept of the Geoparks. This initiative has aroused the interest of nations around the world. By July 2020, there are 161 global geoparks from 44 nations in the world. Taiwan is not out of this trend; long term efforts and actions have been taken on the process of establishing Taiwan's Geoparks and its network. Penghu Marine Geopark Promotion Committee was established (in December 2003) and the establishment of other locally geological parks such as Caoling geopark (2004); Penghu Marine and North Coast Geopark (2007); Yenchao and Lichi Badland Geopark (2010). In 2011, Taiwan Geoparks Network was officially established as an important milestone and a legal premise for the concept of the Geopark incorporated into the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act in July 2016. Taiwan Geoparks Association was soon established in March 2017 accordingly. The association is mainly composed of geoparks, its community members and related scholars and experts for the purpose of resource inventorying and the assessment, evaluation, and management of geoparks.
By 2020, Taiwan Geoparks Network have 10 members in which 6 members have been announced as a local geopark including: Matsu Geopark, Penghu Marine Geopark, Lichi Badland Geopark, East Coast Fugang Geopark and Caota Sand Dunes Geopark. And others are members of network include the Northern Coast Yehliu Geopark, the Northern Coast Bitou-Longdong Geopark, Southwest Coast Geopark and Kaosiung Mudstone Badland Geopark (Figure 1).
The purpose of the network is to foster mutual learning and strengthen the capacity of geopark communities. With Taiwan's geological-diversity, biodiversity and cultural diversity, the geopark community could exercise local power to conserve and preserve the environment for a better future. Protecting the local environment through the geopark's core values (i.e. landscape conservation, environmental education, geo-tourism and local participation) will provide a better foundation for Sustainable Development.
Figure 1. Map of Taiwan Geoparks Network
Geodiversity in Taiwan
Taiwan is located at the junction of Eurasian Plate and Philippine Sea Plate with tectonic colliding and subduction between these two plates. Along with that is the harsh weathering process in the subtropical area, the transportation and sedimentation of erosion products contribute to the diversity of the Taiwan landscape. Spread throughout the island state, there are various types of terrains including alpines, hills, basins, tablelands, plains, swamps, wetlands, and sand dunes.
Taiwan has diverse geology, including metamorphic rock, igneous rock, and sedimentary rock. The Central Range is dominated by metamorphic rocks, the northern part of Taiwan and the Penghu archipelago are dominated by igneous rocks, and the western foothill is home to major sedimentary rocks. For example, Matsu Geopark is famous for its granite, Penghu Marine Geopark is characterized by a basalt landscape, and Yenchao Geopark is featured by mudstone.
To be recognized as a Taiwan geopark, each nominated place needs to experience a rigorous and complicated process. Normally, an NGO/academic teams will conduct a survey to assess resources of the sites, at the same time, equip the local community with educational programs and capacity. Then the proposals will be evaluated by the local government and public before gaining agreement to support the local geopark by the County government and central government. The proposal needs to have clear designation of management areas including a core area, a buffer zone as well as local involvement and protection programs.
There are three agents engaging in geopark management. The first one includes local government and other department of governments, such as the National Scenic Area Authority. They are main sources of funding and responsible for the management of facilities, such as transportation, explanation plates and other information facilities. The second one consists of local communities which act as the local platform for the governments to assist the management. And the third one is academic teams which help local government to carry out surveying of natural resources and publications, such as geopark guides, pamphlets and information on websites.
Currently, most geoparks are at the beginning stage for management. There are some geoparks located within national scenic areas, where there is an official authority which is responsible for overseeing its progress and development, such as the geoparks at Penghu, Matsu, Yehliu, Bitou-Longdong, East Coast and Southwest Coastal wetland geoparks. These geoparks normally provide tourist information centers with regular publications, guide tours by volunteers and multi-media presentations. Interpretation and explanation boards are also ready at most of the scenic sites. These geoparks normally have regular budgets for management. Other geoparks are still at the beginning stage and need more support from the local governments. Like Yenchao, Tsaoling and Lichi geoparks are mainly governed by the local communities with some support from Forestry Bureau.
Taiwan Geoparks with Sustainable development goals
There is a great similarity between the 4 core values of a geopark and sustainable development goals (SDGs). Although the Taiwan Geopark network was officially established less than a decade ago, the efforts of both local governments, local communities and academic teams have resulted in significant initiatives and achievements in all geopark's core values (i.e. landscape conservation, environmental education, geo-tourism and local participation), following by supporting SDGs.
Geo-tourism and geo-products
With outstanding values of landscape, geology and geography, as well as the uniqueness of lifestyle and culture of local communities, the geoparks become an ideal destination for both domestic and foreign tourists. Tourism development strategies are integrated in accordance with natural, cultural and social features of geoparks to develop geo-products. Geo-products partly come from agricultural produce of geopark areas or innovation of the geopark’s local social and cultural milieu as well. Each geopark community has its own unique way of presenting itself through products and innovation. For example, both Lichi and Yenchao Mudstone Badland Geoparks are famous for their badland fruits. Matsu Geopark is famous for its aquaculture and winemaking.
Figure 2. Custard apple gardens in Lichi Badland Geopark
Community engagement and environmental education
The engagement of geoparks’ communities is presented in the contributions about cultural and historical values of communities which are accumulated from long history in tourism activities and geo-products promotion. For example, in Penghu Marine Geopark, “Shi-hu” known as stone fishing weirs and Lao-gu shi (coral walls) and wind breakers for vegetable gardens are famous tourism sites and also good examples to show great traditional wisdom of local people in making good use of materials at hand. In the Yenchao Geopark, the Yuanjiao Humanist Association and some local village community associations are vital institutions active in promoting local beauty spot and networking with other geoparks. People combine community economy and badland characteristics to boost local development. Guavas and Jujubes are important cash crops and local cultural symbols. The activity of visiting the Funin- Jujube-Fields has become a core promotion activity for the community.
Figure 3. Stone fishing weirs in Penghu Marine Geopark
With unique values in geology and geomorphology as well as natural landscapes, geoparks are seen as ideal out-door classrooms for environmental education. The environmental education in Taiwan Geoparks have diverse forms and initiatives. The initiatives can be mentioned as the school exchange programs of primary school students between Matsu islets and Taiwan Main Island at Matsu geopark; or environmental courses for visitors from different ages and needs and "little tour guide" program provided by Yehliu Geopark; Environmental Education at Bitou Elementary and training activities for sea sports provided by North Coast Bitou-Longdong Geopark, etc.