Canada

Nova Scotia's Joggins fossil cliffs named World Heritage Site

Nova Scotia's Joggins fossil cliffs, regarded as the best record of life in the Coal Age 300 million years ago, have been added to the exclusive ranks of World Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO.
The Bay of Fundy tides, the highest in the world, have eroded hundreds of metres of shoreline, exposing fossils dating back 300 million years. (Joggins Fossil Institute)
Nova Scotia's Joggins fossil cliffs, regarded as the best record of life in the Coal Age 300 million years ago, have been added to the exclusive ranks of World Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO.

For nearly 200 years, scientists have been fascinated with the 10-kilometre stretch of cliffs at the head of the Bay of Fundy, where tides continually erode stone to expose fossils dating back hundreds of millions of years. The site has even garnered a mention in Charles Darwin's landmark work, On the Origin of Species.

Late Monday, members of a committee meeting in Quebec City to review applications for UNESCO designation voted unanimously in favour of inducting the fossil cliffs into the exclusive list.

About 100 people gathered in the newly built Joggins tourism centre erupted into cheers when they heard the announcement via video link. 

The fossil cliffs are home to enormous fossilized trees and what's believed to be the remains of the world's oldest reptile.
The Joggins cliffs were submitted last February for consideration by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee. ((Joggins Fossil Institute))

"There really isn't anywhere in the world that's as good as Joggins as far as we know," said Martin Gibling, a professor of earth sciences at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

"It's truly a marvelous place — you can see the entire ancient landscapes of the Earth laid out before you, so to speak."

The community of Joggins is hoping fossil tourism will breathe new life into their economy, lagging since the local coal mine closed in the early 1960s.

Sandi Cooper, one of the dozens gathered to hear the announcement, compared the good news to Christmas morning. "Fantastic, excited, happy!" is how she described her reaction.

Working for more than 10 years

Joggins residents have been working toward a UNESCO designation for more than 10 years in hopes of cashing in on a new wave of wealth by attracting tourists.

A key part of the attempt to have it designated a World Heritage Site was building the new $9-million interpretive centre, which opened in April. The centre houses displays, lab space for researchers, a cafe and store.

Nova Scotia's premier also heralded UNESCO's designation of the site. "The Joggins fossil cliffs are one of Nova Scotia's, and the world's, great natural treasures," Rodney MacDonald said in a news release.   

The Joggins cliffs were submitted last February for consideration by the World Heritage Committee, an educational, scientific and cultural arm of the United Nations founded in 1972 and charged with protecting heritage worldwide.

The cliffs are the second site in Nova Scotia to gain the designation, with the old town of Lunenburg named in 1995.

Twelve other sites were named to the heritage list Monday, including a series of wooden churches dating back to the 16th century and two 500-year-old cities on the Straits of Malacca in Malaysia.

Before Monday's additions, there were only 14 World Heritage Sites in Canada and 855 sites worldwide.

With files from the Canadian Press

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