Geoconservation aims to preserve the natural diversity of our non-living environment (our geodiversity). This means protecting significant examples of:
- bedrock features
- soil features and processes
as well as maintaining natural rates and magnitudes of change in those features and processes.
Geodiversity is a vital part of nature conservation
Both the living (animals and plants) and the non-living (soils, mountains, rivers) parts of our environment are essential for nature conservation. The places where our plants and animals live and rely upon, for their survival, are part of our natural geodiversity. For example, a tiny rock out in the middle of the Tasman Sea called Pedra Branca Rock, is the only place in the world where the Pedra Branca skink lives. Without this landform this skink would not exist. So it is vital for our wildlife that we protect our geodiversity. If we allow our waterways, landforms and soils to become degraded then this will adversely impact on the plants and animals living on or in them.
Geoconservation is an essential part of bioconservation, as geodiversity provides the variety of environments and environmental pressures which directly influence biodiversity.
Geodiversity has intrinsic value
However, geoconservation does not focus solely on the importance of non-living things in conserving biological systems, but is also based on the premise that geodiversity has important conservation values of its own, independent of any role in sustaining living things.
Our geodiversity can be fragile
It is often argued that there is no need for geoconservation because earth features are generally robust. However this is commonly not the case. Important geological exposures such as delicate fossil or rare mineral sites are easily destroyed by inappropriate excavations or uncontrolled collecting.
Ongoing landforming processes, for example in cave (karst) and river (fluvial) systems, can easily be degraded by inappropriate disturbances in their water catchment areas. Old vegetated sand dunes can be 'blown out' following disturbance of their thin stabilising soil cover by vegetation clearing, vehicle use or fires. Peat soils can be entirely destroyed by a single bushfire. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, geoconservation often deals with relict or 'fossil' features which are not still forming, so that any degradation is permanent and unsustainable. There is a very good reason for active geoconservation management of such features, arguably greater than bioconservation where things can potentially be 're-grown'.
Integrating geoconservation into land management practices
If the natural values of bedrock, landform and soil systems are to be retained as part of the broader nature conservation estate, it is essential that land management procedures pay specific attention to the sensitivities which many aspects of geodiversity display.
Thus, conserving the values and sustainability of natural environments requires full integration of geoconservation into broader nature conservation programs. However, historically most geoconservation work in Australia has been focussed on a "geological heritage" approach, in which geodiversity (under various names such as 'geological monuments', 'geological heritage' or 'significant geological features') was seen as being important mainly for its value to scientific research and education. Because this approach does not address issues of intrinsic values and ecological sustainability, the 'geological heritage' approach to geoconservation has largely been ignored or treated as a minor issue in nature conservation programs because of its percieved lack of relevance to central issues in land management.
The Tasmanian scene
Concepts and Principles of Geoconservation describes a newer and broader approach which aims to properly integrate geoconservation into its rightful role as an essential part of nature conservation. On the Australian scene, a significant part of this theoretical and practical development has occurred within Tasmanian land management agencies from the mid-1980s onwards. Because of its youth, the theoretical concepts and management approaches of geoconservation are still in a process of development.
For this reason, the principles and approaches which have been adopted by geoconservation workers in Tasmania are presented in some detail on this website in order to:
- provide ideas and principles which other workers may find a useful starting point for developing their own approaches to geoconservation; and to
- encourage discussion and debate on geoconservation principles and approaches, hopefully leading to further development and improvement of the approaches currently being used.
See Principles and Concepts of Geoconservation (below) for more details:
History of Geoconservation in Tasmania (9 KB)
Conserving Geodiversity, the Importance of Valuing our Geological Heritage (20 KB)
Principles and Concepts of Geoconservation (532 KB)
A further paper,
Stream diversity and conservation in Tasmania: yet another new approach,
illustrates the concept of geoconservation in action:
Stream diversity and conservation in Tasmania: yet another new approach. (845 KB)