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Iran's one and only Geopark dropped from UNESCO list


By Bijan Rohani (Source: Radio Zamaneh)

After numerous warnings from UNESCO, the geopark at Qeshm Island has been deleted from that organization's list of Global Geoparks. This is yet another example of Iran's mismanagement of environmental and natural parks.

Photos: The Stars Valley, Qeshm Island, Persian Gulf

In the past year, UNESCO has criticized the management of this natural area and urged Iran to follow the geopark rules and regulations or see this natural region removed from the Global Geoparks Network. One year has passed since the first warnings, and as the expert requests have not been heeded, the name of Qeshm Geopark can no longer be found on the list of world geoparks.

The Qeshm Island Geopark was the only geopark in Iran and the Middle East. So far, very few countries have been able to register a natural region in this world network. In 2007, Qeshm succeeded in proving the region's natural and cultural value but within six years, it has lost that standing.

China stands at the top of the Global Geoparks Network (GGN) with 27 registered regions and it makes optimal use of their potential.

map of Qeshm Geopark (see high resolution)

What is a geopark?

Geoparks are natural regions that have significant scientific and geological value as well as a natural and cultural heritage. Each of these geographic units is under the protection and supervision of a single management body charged with preserving its natural and geological value. The Global Geopark Network, established by UNESCO, not only registers the parks but also pursues three other objectives: geopark protection, education and the setting of standards for green tourism.

UNESCO had called on Iran to establish the appropriate facilities and infrastructure to manage the geologically significant areas in Qeshm. Iran was given adequate time to do this but was unable to use the time effectively.

Local residents were supposed to be provided information about the region, and training was to be provided to indigenous people so they could do most of the work to manage the area. UNESCO aims to involve the local communities and indigenous people of the geoparks in protecting and promoting these parks.

Furthermore, access routes and information signs were supposed to be planned and plans had to be devised for the systematic protection of areas with animal and plant fossils.

Other conditions for geoparks included having the appropriate infrastructure and adequate accommodations for tourists, in tune with environmental standards while protecting the natural landscape. But unfortunately, Iran's geopark management has failed in all these respects.

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Silence and secrecy

The former Qeshm Island Geopark was managed by the Qeshm Free Zone Organization, and the Environment Organization was not involved in any way. Although Qeshm Island Geopark was removed from the UNESCO list about two months ago, the Free Zone Organization kept it under wraps from the media. Now it is justifying the delay by saying it was trying to renegotiate with UNESCO to restore this region to the list. Mohammad Hashem Dakhteh, director of the Qeshm Geopark, says compliance in a number of areas could still return Qeshm to the Global Geopark Network.

Washed-out plans despite the budget in the billions

The former Qeshm Geopark had managed to gather quite adequate funding to create conservation and management frameworks. According to the director of the former geopark, its budget for the current year was 20 billion rials.

Environmental experts are now asking how that money was put to use, given that the project failed to progress toward meeting global standards and ultimately was dropped from the global list.

Qeshm Island and its natural attractions have been facing many environmental threats, such as unregulated construction developments and various pollutants. Qeshm Island's continued inclusion on the GGN list could have been a strong tool for preserving its natural and geological treasures and stopping unwanted projects in the region.

Another reason for the failure to meet the GGN requirements was the constant management turnover and instability at the Qeshm Free Zone Organization. Thus Iran has lost a golden opportunity to promote the region globally as well as bringing the country some positive international attention.

Environmental experts say Iran has the potential to place many more geoparks on the UNESCO list, but the legacy of mismanagement at Qeshm will make it more difficult to secure the UN agency's trust in the future.

[translated from the original in Persian]

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