The Executive Director of Geoparque Oeste, Miguel Reis Silva, said in an interview with Estado com Arte Magazine that he was taking part in the UNESCO World Geoparks Conference in Marrakech when the earthquake struck on 8 September in Morocco.
The West’s greatest geological potential lies in the unique geological formations from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, including Ponta do Trovão, in Peniche, the 13 new species of dinosaur in the world, as well as the largest concentration of dinosaur eggs discovered, according to Miguel Reis Silva.
This application for Geopark West is believed to help local authorities maintain or increase their investments in areas such as education, tourism, science and geoconservation.
Next year at UNESCO’s executive meeting, Geopark West will be approved in the spring.
“Luckily we were in the right place at the right time when the earthquake hit. We weren’t in a very complicated place, it could have been worse. In Marrakech there are central areas that could have been complicated by mass movements. I was outside and ended up not having a very traumatic experience, unlike colleagues who were in other buildings that were badly damaged, or where the buildings shook a lot,” Miguel Reis Silva told Estado com Arte Magazine about the earthquake in Morocco.
He admits that it was a “very frightening experience to feel the earth shaking with that intensity. We were outside the hotel, feeling the earth tremble and seeing the hotel shake without falling, if it had lasted a few more seconds the damage would have been irreversible to the structure, but fortunately nothing happened. That night, as a precaution, we slept in an area outside the hotel, but the next day we were able to return to the hotel rooms. The situation was resolved.”
The Portuguese delegation didn’t suffer any injuries, nor were they left homeless, but other participants at the conference “tell stories of everything: people who ended up going to another hotel, there are several stories. The conference took place in the Marrakech conference centre, which was damaged.” The activities planned for that day were cancelled, the award ceremonies, the recognition and revalidation of UNESCO World Geoparks, as well as new World Geopark territories at these conferences were held in a tent, which they used for meals, but everything was done “safely and without any problems”.
On the night itself there was a level 4 replica that had nothing to do with the 7. “We felt it, but it wasn’t very intense, that night there were 30 more low-intensity replicas, but the epicentre wasn’t there, it was about 80 kilometres away.” The old buildings are not suited to this catastrophe, the houses are very old and there was a lot of destruction.
“The hotel we were in was about 20 years old, the structure, in terms of the impact of the earthquake, was adapted to this impact, otherwise it would have collapsed. The hotel building moved a lot, it did what it had to do to release that accumulated energy, it did its job. Even inside the hotel, the cracks were in the compensation zones.”
But there were other buildings such as the Congress Centre, a more recent building than the hotel where the head of the Portuguese delegation was staying, which was badly damaged and will take a few months to be rehabilitated.
Western Geopark’s application to UNESCO
The aim of the World Conference of UNESCO’s global network of Geoparks is to share experiences, but also to help other territories that are preparing applications to learn more about what is being done by other geoparks that have been recognised by the global network for more years.
The conference was attended by 1,500 participants from 50 countries in 9 simultaneous communication rooms. The Geopark West delegation alone presented 11 papers on projects they had developed over the last year, which had also been presented at the last European Geoparks conference.
“It was a moment of sharing so we could all learn what’s being done again. For us it was important, because at the executive meeting the technical report was approved, which means that next year at the UNESCO executive board meeting our candidacy will be revalidated, and we will be recognised as Geopark West worldwide.
This is important for our territory and for Portugal, which is seeing its geoparks increase from 5 to 6. It will be an important moment for the 6 municipalities taking part. Learning about new geoparks, travelling around the world in one place.”
The next geoparks congress will be held in Chile, for the first time in South America.
The 4 Portuguese geoparks that were in the process of being revalidated have been approved, which is “good news for Portugal”, according to Miguel Reis Silva.
The Western Territory: a unique natural heritage to preserve
Any territory must present 1 or more sites of international reference, approved by the international geological organisation. The application presents 22 geosites of international importance to the international geological organisation.
The Ponta do Trovão area, in Peniche, is recognised by the international scientific community as the best site in the world for studying one of the phases of the Jurassic period. There are 2 such sites in Portugal, both from the Jurassic period: one at Ponta do Trovão and the other at Cabo Mondego, in Figueira da Foz. Throughout the world there are 68 Global Boundary Stratotype Sections and Points (GSSP’s) known as Golden Nails.
“We have sites in the West where 13 new dinosaurs have been discovered, in other words, 13 new species discovered for science.” That’s why the Lourinhanosaurus antunesi, discovered in Lourinhã, stands out. “As well as dinosaurs, we have dinosaur eggs and nests, which are very rare – there are around a dozen in the world. 4 and a 5th in prospecting have been identified and discovered in the West, which for some researchers is the largest concentration of dinosaurs in the world.” Not just because of the quantity, but because of the find itself: in some of the nests it’s possible to study the dinosaur embryo, the small bones and then discover the nest, the eggs, the embryos and the adult dinosaur. Which is something very rare. Something more recent with a few million flowers, in the Cercal area.
There are many very important points, because they are in a “fantastic landscape”, recognised by the scientific community, and recognised by UNESCO, as natural heritage to be maintained and preserved.
Participating in the UNESCO application project are the Associação Geoparque do Oeste, the Universidade Nova DE Lisboa, the Museu da Lourinhã and the Sociedade de Histórica Natural de Torres Vedras, the founding organisations of AGEO – Associação Geoparque Oeste – along with other individuals.
The Geopark’s Scientific Council is made up of a group of specialists linked to different areas: geology, palaeontology, geography and land use planning, who are making a decisive contribution to a “solid candidacy”.
For Miguel Reis Silva, “it’s only possible to go ahead with this application because of the local authorities and organisations that have been working on palaeontology in the area for over 40 years”.
The aspiring Geopark West includes the municipalities of Bombarral, Cadaval, Caldas da Rainha, Lourinhã, Peniche and Torres Vedras.
Miguel Silva Reis emphasises the West’s cultural heritage (traditions and customs), but also its natural heritage. “Amongst other things, we highlight the theme and history of Rainha D. Leonor and thermalism, embroidery, local gastronomy, crockery and earthenware, cutlery, the arts, religious heritage, museums and interpretation centres. But also the valleys and viewpoints, the beaches, the Óbidos Lagoon, the Salir dune, the dinosaur footprints, the thermal baths, among others.”
In addition to the municipalities, this application has more than 150 partners, including public and private organisations, as well as companies, schools, universities and other foreign organisations.
“We want this whole territory to be recognised as a UNESCO World Geopark, one of the three UNESCO programmes for the enhancement of natural and cultural heritage, but also for the appreciation, recognition and promotion of this territory by those who live in and visit the West. We have a unique territory, the safeguarding of which must include its recognition and appreciation by all those who live in, manage and visit the West.”
It has been proven that once a territory has been recognised as a UNESCO World Geopark, its demand in terms of tourism, new businesses, places to live and the installation of new science services increases substantially. As such, we believe that this project is one of the most impactful strategies that the Western Region has ever undertaken, in the sense that it will continuously and over time bring demand to the region and this demand in different areas will translate into an increase in local businesses, thus making an important contribution to the revitalisation of internalised territories, but also others that are looking for new forms of attractiveness.
On the other hand, it will help local authorities to maintain or increase their investments in areas such as education, tourism, science and geoconservation, and this is very important for a territory that wants to develop through the valorisation of its natural and cultural heritage.
The West Zone’s application to become a UNESCO World Geopark has been approved and is now awaiting validation by UNESCO’s Executive Board, which is scheduled for spring 2024.