Declaration of geoparks must become a national priority
Prof. Sinyovski was born in 1955 in the village of Madan, Montana district. Before focusing on geology, he graduated the National Secondary School of Electronics John Atanasoff in Sofia, and then spent two years working at the Kozlodui NPP. His first professional endeavors as geologist took place in the former exploration enterprise Rare Metals. He has taught since 1982 at the Mining-Geology University of St. Ivan Rilski During his long professional career he has strived to combine the unitary nature of geology, which involves provision of raw resources for the economy, with environment preservation. He consulted well-known petroleum companies such as Texaco, British Gas, and Vintage, but at the same time he is a coordinator of the Registry and Cadastre of Geological Phenomena in Bulgaria. He is a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and of the European Association for Conservation of Geological Heritage. „These two activities are not mutually exclusive. In a strictly professional context I pride myself of the Bulgaria-unique specialty of Geology and Geoinformatics, which in the conditions of dynamic informational environment unites in one geology and informatics and provides experts in Geographic Information Experts for the contemporary economy’s needs“, says prof. Sinyovski.
It is your idea that the Belogradchik Rocks be declared a “geopark”, tell us more about this. What conditions must be met for a site to be declared a “geopark” and how does this relate to UNESCO’s Convention on Global and Cultural Heritage?
Actually, it is the Belogradchik municipality’s idea to declare the Belogradchik Rocks a geopark. My idea is to set up a national network of geopark among which the Belogradchik Rocks would play a leading role. They are our “Valley of Monuments” are have been recognized as a phenomenon of global worth by the president of the European Association for Conservation of Geological Heritage. The Belogradchik Rocks have all natural givens to be a geopark but there are purely economic and legal requirements, which we are unable to meet at this point. This has to do primarily with the absence of the “geopark” category in the Protected Territories Act and the Municipality’s inability to maintain a budget and a managing body of the future park. This would have to be a priority for the state.
The UNESCO Convention is a document in which the global cultural and natural heritage is defined in very general terms. The geoparks initiative was taken up by UNESCO in 1998, but in 2001 it was surprisingly decided to support efforts in the individual countries instead of that program. The initiative, however, had acquired momentum and in 2004 the Global Geoparks Network was established in Beijing. All countries worldwide may apply for this initiative, with the approved applications receiving the UNESCO logo and a “UNESCO Geopark” status”.
Geological phenomena are places of aesthetic or scientific value, which feature key moments in Earth’s history. These may be impressive morphological formations of aesthetic value – canyons, fiords, rock bridges, rock pyramids, mountain peaks, deserts, lakes, moraines, etc. At the same time, these may be sites of scientific value – notable examples of the planet’s inorganic or organic evolution, such as giant crystals, rare minerals and rocks, fossils of extinct species, tectonic areas, etc.
How should we perceive the term „Geoconservation“?
Geoconservation began as a museum operation focused on the conservation of minerals, rock, and fossils in museum expositions. The term’s contemporary meaning, however, exceeds its original content. Nowadays, by geoconservation we mean the overall human activities for preserving the geological variety for the future generations in unison with the sustainable growth terminology: meeting our needs for raw resources and minerals without putting in doubt the future generations’ ability to cover their own needs for such resources. Similar to biodiversity, geodiversity also needs preservation, which is expressed in not destroying entire classes of natural features.
How is geological heritage to be preserved? Which are the good global examples? What is the situation like in Bulgaria?
Geoconservation includes all activities relating to identification, description, registration, preservation, monitoring, and the legislation of geological phenomena. This requires significant investment and cannot be done on voluntary basis. Speaking of global examples, it is sufficient to reference site, which have become the national symbol of their countries – the Grand Canyon for the USA, the fiords for Norway, the Amazon river for Brazil, Meteora and Olympus for Greece, the Bosporus and Cappadocia for Turkey.
Our country has exceptional geological heritage and is an outdoor geological museum of sorts. It cannot compare to the geological sites in countries with vast territory but it features a truly unique natural wealth. There is no other country so small, which displays rocks from all geological era – from the Archean to the Quaternary. This huge wealth does not belong solely to Bulgaria but also to Europe and the world, however, its preservation is up to us, being the keepers of this territory.
Is there a registry and description of similar sites in the country? Which are the most attractive geophenomena in Bulgaria?
Bulgaria was one of the countries, which immediately responded to the UNESCO’s geoparks initiatives and back in 1999 the Ministry of the Environment and Waters announced a tender for elaboration of a Registry and Cadastre of Geological Phenomena. It was completed in 2003 and includes 188 sites. The most attractive ones, of course, are the Belogradchik Rocks, Pobitite Kamani, the Melnik Pyramids, the Isskar Gorge, Vitosha, Rila, Pirin. Pirin is on UNESCO’s list of National Parks. The geological heritage there, however, is not described, i.e. it is not a geopark. Currently, there is preparation to develop the Rila geopark, which, similarly to Belogradchik, is an initiative of local municipalities.
Which are the institutions supposed to be committed to preservation of the geological heritage in our country?
The National Nature Protection Service is a section of the Ministry of the Environment and Waters. This is a ministry, which has legislative initiative for amendments to the Protected Territories Act. Therefore, this is the institution, on which coordination of this activity depends. Otherwise, we could end up with an uncontrollable process of territories being declared geoparks without having sufficiently representative features of geoparks, just because of the better financial capacity of some local communities. Thus, the most representative geological phenomena such as the Belogradchik Rocks and the Melnik Pyramids may never enter the UNESCO list. Declaration of certain areas as geoparks must become a national priority.
What places within Bulgaria are subject of special geological interest? Does geological interest coincide with what tourists find interesting as an attractive destination?
The places of special geological interest are numerous but they must not be evaluated for evaluation’s sake alone, but from the perspective of their tourism potential instead. Geotourism is a successfully positioned and fast-developing new business sector in tourism. It is one of the state-of-the-art forms of sustainable tourism, which may revitalize economically backward regions. Geotourism takes place through visits to territories containing notable landscapes or prominent examples of particular aesthetic impact or high scientific value. Geoparks come closest to the definition of this category. For a geopark to be established, existence of prominent geological features alone is not sufficient. Such territory must also have sites of historical, archeological, environmental, cultural, spiritual, or other interest associated with the area’s identity, which site should, together with the sites of geological interest, fall under aegis of common actions for park-type protection and governance. In this context one may say that the interest of tourists outweighs that of geologists, because the main goal of geoparks is the social-economic development of the regions, and geotourism is often the only chance for salvation of regions, which have fallen victim to rural depopulation in the second half of the 20th century
Everything, as long it is correctly read. Regrettably, our community has a hard time deciphering nature’s symbolics and fails to notice the wealth granted to us by nature itself. We are inspired by events we tend to forget in a matter of months and fail to recognize the intransient valuables around us. It is the geologists’ role to help people appreciate geological variety because nothing has a stronger impact on the people visiting a country that the country’s natural landmarks. Information about the planet’s evolution is contained in the sites of scientific value. E.g., the giant meteorite collision, which extinguished the dinosaurs and many Mesozoic animals at the end of the Cretaceous (65 million years ago), left a several centimeters’ thin layer of iridium on the entire Earth. Bulgaria is among the few countries in the world where this layer is ascertained in several locations. In the Sofia area of the Stara Planina mountain one can observe rocks formed 30 degrees from the South Pole, in the periphery of the ancient Gondwana continent, more than 400 million years ago. There are many other unique things known only by geologists. If these are properly promoted, they may attract many visitors because people take interest not only in the human history, which is several thousand years old, but also in the planet’s history, which spans billions of years.
Is there geotourism in Bulgaria’sneighboring countries?
The European Network of Geoparks was established on the island of Lesbos, Greece in 2000. It was a forerunner of the Global Network of Geoparks, which was established in 2004. Geotourism and mining tourism exist in all countries nowadays, not just in the neighboring ones. In Greece this is combined with the traditional tourist destiantions, and in Turkey they now organize dedicate geological trips not only in Cappadocia and Pamuk Kale, and in Slovenia organized visits to underground mines are arranged, introducing tourists to the history of coal mining, with the tourists taking part in simulations of the mining process, using the underground transportation for trips to the mine.
Very often historical places of interest originate in places having the geological prerequisites for that. Let me return to the Meteora in Greece – the rock monasteries there were built on inaccessible cliffs. Without these cliffs the monasteries would not have existed as well. In our country this is the case with the Madara Rider. It would not have been carved without the prominent cliff range of the Madara Rocks.
How should the geophenomena in Bulgaria be promoted?
Promotion of Bulgaria’s geological heritage must be national policy. This requires significant funds, which should, however, be cost-effective. During the campaign for the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2009 Serbia invested more than EUR 20 million to advertise “the Devil’s City” – an insignificant site, which is inferior in terms of esthetic worth even to the Stob Pyramids but nevertheless ranked higher than the Belogradchik Rocks, for which our country allocated just several hundred thousand BGN. We were one of the first countries, which responded to the UNESCO’s initiatives and back in 2003 prepared a national Registry and Cadastre, as well as a scientific description of the Isskar Gorge geopark. Unfortunately, it all ended there and then. Countries, which had previously never heard of geoparks, are now members of the European Network with 2-3 geoparks, and we have none.
Photos: Tihomir Mladenov