Already popular in Europe and China, the geopark concept involves protecting an area of international geological significance while offering educational opportunities and sustainable economic development of the local population.
If adopted in Kaikoura, it could be one of the first in New Zealand.
Josi is on a two-year scholarship from Fiji, where she works at the Nasinu Town Council as a planning officer.
She came to study in New Zealand to extend her knowledge of the field and says she is eager to contribute “in some small way” to Kaikoura’s recovery in the aftermath of last November’s earthquake.
Her research will explore whether a geopark is a realistic prospect for the region.
“The geopark is a fairly new concept, as the idea was developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization over the past five to 10 years,” she says.
“It’s not just about visiting and studying rocks, but it incorporates the wider environment, including the local community who maintain the earth’s heritage while earning a living out of it.
“The concept seems particularly relevant to Kaikoura because the town has been thrust into the public consciousness in terms of its geology after the earthquake exposed some of the area’s geological features.
“We also know from previous studies that conservation attracts tourists so this could be an ideal project for Kaikoura.”
In addition to examining the planning context, Josi will spend time interviewing local experts to gauge public support for the idea.
Part of her research also involves gaining a thorough understanding of the legislation required to develop a geopark and investigating how the council could proceed with the idea.
Parks, Recreation and Tourism Senior Lecturer Stephen Espiner, who is supervising the project, says the geopark concept could be an excellent complement to New Zealand’s existing protected area network.
“Unlike national parks, the geopark is a looser construct. It’s still about conservation, but there are educational and development components as well,” he says.
Josi will also explore which specific Kaikoura sites could be incorporated into the concept.
“Geoparks are a little different to how New Zealanders have typically understood parks in the past,” Dr Espiner says.
“There could be geological features in different areas that might form part of the geopark, but they would need to have a thematic link, with something like a visitor centre acting as a hub and to point people in the direction of the individual features.”
The research findings are due in November.