According to the guideline of the Global Geoparks Network (GGN) supported by UNESCO, a geopark must be an area that has geoheritages and other natural and cultural heritages with clearly defined boundaries and a large enough in area to serve local economic and cultural development through geotourism. A geopark must integrate sites of significant geoheritage in a strategy for sustainable regional socio-economic development and must be based on strong local community support and professional management structures. The GGN was established in 2004 with the support of UNESCO. Since then the concept of the GGN has received global acceptance and it now has 77 members from 25 countries including four geoparks in Japan as of April 2011. Activities to establish geoparks in Japan started in 2005 and accelerated in 2007 with cooperation from academic societies related to earth sciences and local municipalities. The Japan Geopark Committee (JGC) was established in 2008 to have aspiring geoparks in Japan evaluated by academic societies. The JGC decided the first three candidate areas in Japan to apply for the GGN in October 2008 and endorsed the first seven national (domestic) geoparks including above-mentioned three candidates for the GGN in December 2008. The Japanese Geoparks Network (JGN) was established in February 2009 by the seven national geoparks. Four more geoparks were endorsed by the JGC and joined the JGN in October 2009. As of May 2011 JGN has fourteen geoparks including four global geoparks, namely Itoigawa, Sanin Coast, Toya-Usu, and Unzen. Geoparks in Japan play important roles in educating people about the earth sciences and disaster mitigation. Support given by scientists and the local people themselves to local communities is crucial for fostering education on the earth sciences in geoparks.
Although there is only one geopark in Australia, there are many geosites and associated clusters. These geosites form the base of geotourism in Australian national and provincial parks and in nature conservation areas. According to the geosites' geographical range and the networks they generate, Australian geotourism can be divided into three types: small-scale, medium-scale, and large-scale geotourism. Small-scale geotourism is characterized by the local distribution of geosites and of the networks they form. In the Willandra Lakes Region, for example, the regional development of geotourism is limited to a local cluster of geosites and their immediate surroundings. At such a local scale, geotourism does not contribute much to the sustainability of regional development because the relationship between geosites and other regional resources is not strong and does not generate organic networks. This type of geotourism is similar to ecotourism, and the linkage with eco-sites and conservation is important. Medium-scale geotourism is characterized by a broader regional distribution and occurs in combination with a small number of national and provincial parks, and with nature conservation areas such as the Greater Blue Mountain Region. Although geosites and their clusters are linked with some other kinds of regional resource in this type of geotourism, they remain dominated by bio-resources and the natural landscape. This type of geotourism generally complements mass-tourism in areas that are easily accessible from urban areas. On the other hand, large-scale geotourism is characterized by its broader spread and a wider network of geosites such as the Kanawinka Region, where the geopark is located, stretching over large areas of Victoria and South Australia Provinces. In spite of the dispersion of geosites, the relationships among them are strong and the linkage with additional regional resources contributes to the development of geotourism. Therefore, this type of geotourism makes an important contribution to the sustainability of regional development because the relationships among geosites and other regional resources generate multi-functional networks, and thus offers a diversity of tourism options.
A geopark involves not only a geological heritage but also geographical and ecological elements. Therefore, subjects related to geotourism are not only landforms and geology, but also ecosystems, including vegetation and animal communities, and human landscapes, such as terraced rice paddies and grasslands created by human activity. Because geotourism covers a broad range of elements, from geo- and ecosystems to human activities, it is expected that the further development of related activities will be supported and approved by an increasing number of people. In this manuscript, I introduce some examples of geo-ecotourism as a special type of geotourism, including: vegetation at the summit area of Mount Hakusan, vegetation in a landslide scar on Mount Bandaisan, and the habitat of Dicentra peregrine on Mount Yatsugatake. These were all very popular with the participants of excursions I conducted. Geotours also promote regional development because they benefit residents economically by employing local workers and travel-related businesses, and encourage consumption of local services and products by visitors. A pressing issue concerning geotourism in Japan is the development of human resources such as tour guides. A geotour needs an excellent guide with a riveting interpretation. There are, however, few of such guides and there is a need to rapidly foster more. As a model for fostering guides, I introduce my “Intensive course on the natural history of mountains,” which interprets the natural history of mountains based on geo-ecology. In the long term, however, it is necessary to introduce natural history education into the school system and improve the quality of nature programs broadcast on TV. Many participants of geotours are middle aged and older, and tend to be energetic and slow to age. This may be because the tour participants are required to do physical activity and to use their common sense. Based on this perspective, a geopark approach must gain in importance within social and lifelong education.
Arguments on geoparks and geotourism have grown heated in recent years. However, few people can understand what “geo” means. This study considers how to share viewpoints of “geo” to build sustainable regional societies from a geographical perspective. First, the author defines geotourism as a type of ecotourism mainly focusing on the Earth's scientific resources. Second, the author argues that the concept of regional diversity proposed by the Japanese Geographical Union in 2005 is the core of Geography. The author has this concept connect the three existing concepts of the geosphere: biodiversity, cultural diversity, and geodiversity. Then, the author discusses promoting geotourism with the concept of regional diversity and familiar geographical views that are important for building sustainable societies. A geographical approach is inevitable for showing the relationship between our lives and “geo”. Humankind will have a better future by locating the geotourism as the main practice of “Earth Science for Society,” which was the slogan of the International Year of Planet Earth 2007-2009 (IYPE), and sustaining activities to develop ways of looking at “regional diversity”.
The activities of Ibaraki University in the North Ibaraki Geopark Project mainly comprise designing the framework of the geostory, planning and carrying out geotours, training interpreters for the geosites and constructing an information network system using social networking service (SNS). In this paper we present a case study on the role of the university in the geopark project. The activities of the academic staff and a project team made up of undergraduate and the graduate students of Ibaraki University using geological information for the North Ibaraki Geopark Project is explained. Ibaraki University promotes the geopark project and thus contributes to the regional development in the northern Ibaraki area.
Geoconservation for geographical and geological phenomena is the most important concept associated with a geopark scheme. However, there is not enough discussion on geopark activities in Japan. Japanese Earth scientists have acted individually to conserve the natural environment, but large-scale conservation projects have not been carried out as activities of research organizations of academic societies. One of the contributions the Earth sciences have made to society is to report the scientific value of regional natural environments. Japanese Earth scientists should make detailed inventories of landforms, strata, and soil and evaluate them. Earth scientists will be able to contribute to conserving nature and sustainable development of regions through these activities. The RIGS system of the United Kingdom is a good model.
Geopark is a beneficial tool for regional development that makes use of characteristic natural and cultural resources, such as landform, rocks, animals, and plants, as well as human history, culture, and traditions in an area. Geopark as a system includes promoting regional development based on integrating three fundamental elements of geopark activity, i.e., conservation, education, and geotourism. Itoigawa Geopark was designated a member of the Global Geopark Network with assistance from UNESCO on 22 August 2009. Itoigawa is a small city with a population of about 48,000 located on the coast of the Japan Sea close to mountains. Following its recognition, the citizens of Itoigawa became aware of the international excellence of the nature and culture of the city and developed pride in their hometown. Consequently, work began to construct a new community by promoting the region based on the geopark system. The awareness of the citizens generated the spontaneous ideas and actions needed to construct a comfortable life with good health, education, and economy in the city. Local governments, such as those of cities, towns, and villages, especially in rural areas, have been looking for ways to promote their regions because of Japan's weak economy over the past twenty years. The geopark is expected to be a useful tool for achieving significant regional development in rural areas.
Unzen Volcanic Area Geopark was one of the first global geoparks in Japan. It is the source of the unique culture and history of local people who have both benefitted from Unzen volcano and faced disastrous volcanic eruptions. In this paper, I introduce examples of how a geo-heritage connects with local promotions of the geopark through geotours to achieve sustainable local development. During 2009 and 2010, geotours mainly for local people were arranged 68 times in the geopark. During these geotours, members of Unzen Volcanic Area Geopark Promotion Office and tour guides told geostories, which related geographical and geological information associated with local history, culture, and traditions to the participants. The result of a questionnaire survey of participants showed that more than 70 percent were satisfied with the geotours and felt they had rediscovered the geoheritage of the Shimabara Peninsula. However, even if interesting geostories are constructed, someone must pass them on to visitors. Moreover, it is not uncertain whether these geostories are widely accepted by visitors. To achieve sustainable development of tourism, therefore, two things are necessary: first is the construction of geostories in cooperation with specialists in sightseeing and earth science, and second is the promotion of excellent guides who can pass on geostories to tourists.
The Ryukyu Islands strongly promote the geodiversity of Japan. A sub-tropic natural environment forms coral reefs and various landscapes linked to surface processes, active tectonics, and Quaternary environmental changes. Field excursions permit geoscientific observations of such landscapes, which reveal geodiversity and a framework for geotourism. Fieldwork was undertaken to arrange an educational program for conserving geodiversity and for geotourism. This program demonstrates the geodiversity and geotourism of the Ryukyu Islands, in terms of geomorphology and related disciplines. Basic geotours observe landforms and sediments, and consider geomorphic processes: weathering, erosion, transport, sedimentation, uplift, and sea level change. Applied geotours observe landscapes indicating global environmental problems, such as global warming, climate change, sea level rise, acid rain, and ecosystem based on geomorphology and related geosciences. For instance, acid rain accelerates the chemical weathering (decomposition) of limestone and erosion of karst landforms that are distributed widely on raised coral reefs. Such geotours require both scientific and attractive geostories managed by geoscientists. Japanese geoscientists should propose models for geotours derived from field excursions for landscape observations that will contribute to education, conservation, and geotourism.
We conducted an experimental geotour, which was monitored by professional nature guides, to improve our geotour plan and guiding techniques. We asked the nature guides to fill out a questionnaire and give advices to improve the geotours. The experimental geotours were conducted at the Shikaribestu volcano group and Shikaribetu Lake in central Hokkaido, Japan. We explained the geological history of the volcano group and the mechanism of cold talus slopes filled with ice, in as simple terms as possible. However, the nature guides judged our geotours to be “rather difficult”, indicating that our plan and interpretation need to be improved. Based on the results of questionnaires and comments from the nature guides, we propose some ideas to improve the geotour in general: (1) Eliminate technical terms where possible in the explanations; (2) Use clear figures and pictures in explanations; and, (3) Make a story to connect all the geosites included in a tour. To improve guidebooks: (1) Use bird's-eye view map or other 3D maps instead of contour maps to make it easy to understand the landform; (2) Add glossary of technical terms and scale of geologic time; and, (3) Send the guidebook to participants before the geotour. These ideas may help to deepen the participant's' understanding and to achieve high-level of satisfaction among participants.