MITZPE RAMON–Our colleague Yoav Avni of the Geological Survey of Israel is part of a movement to declare the Negev Desert around the three major makhteshim a Geopark cataloged by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). A Geopark is defined by UNESCO as “A territory encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance, not only for geological reasons but also by virtue of its archaeological, ecological or cultural value.” Yoav’s dream is that scientists and the general public from around the world will someday visit the makhteshim to tour the unique geological features with an infrastructure in place much like that of a US National Park. The ecological and cultural heritage of this region will be as important as the geology.
I played a small role in this process when I wrote a letter to the Israeli government in 2005 (at Yoav’s request) explaining the geological value of Makhtesh Gadol and opposing further expansion of a sand quarry in the northern part of the makhtesh. This added a seed of international scientific interest to the discussion that continues to grow.
Now when we describe geological phenomena and fossils in the makhteshim, we are thinking about the ways we can explain these things to the public through nature trails, museum exhibits and popular press articles. It is exciting to be on the ground floor of such an endeavor.
There is plenty of opposition to this Geopark, of course. On one side are industries and government officials who want to squeeze every bit of economic usefulness from the land; on the other are extreme preservationists who wish to close off large tracts to all human entry. Somehow Yoav and his colleagues will have to find a way to make the future Geopark economically viable and yet with all the protections necessary to preserve its natural assets. This will be a slow process but maybe I will someday be posting blogs from the Makhteshim Country Geopark.