Nova Scotia

Pursuit of UNESCO designation for Fundy geological area on hold — for now

The organization applying for the UNESCO status is worried the designation could bring an end to mineral sales in the area.

Organization worried that designation would bring mineral sales to an end

Five Islands Provincial Park, located on the Parrsboro shore, is a popular destination for beachcombing and rock collecting. (Fundy Geological Museum)

An application to have UNESCO recognize part of the Bay of Fundy region as an area of geological significance has been placed on hold.

The Cumberland Geological Society, which operates the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, N.S., has been working for more than two years to establish the Cliffs of Fundy UNESCO Global GeoPark.

But the society recently learned that if the UNESCO designation is granted, the museum may not be allowed to continue selling rocks and minerals in its gift shop and may be required to stop sponsoring the Nova Scotia Gem and Mineral Show, a significant tourist draw in the area.

UNESCO Global Geoparks are areas with international geological significance, and protection of the resource, as well as education and sustainable development, are among the key criteria.

Oralee O'Byrne is the treasurer of the board of the Cumberland Geological Society, and is also a member of the committee overseeing the application.

She said the designation would bring global attention to the geological significance of the area and would be a "great marketing tool."

Tim Fedak, the acting curator of geology for the Nova Scotia Museum, studies the cliffs in Parrsboro, N.S. Due to rapid erosion, the cliffs frequently show new fossils. (Supplied by Tim Fedak)

"There's not one of us on the board who doesn't think it would be a phenomenal thing for the area. It's just we're concerned about this one clause," O'Byrne said.

The board of the museum has written to the Canadian GeoParks Network to seek clarification on the rules about commercial use of geological material, and to make its case for being allowed to collect and sell that material.

The museum does not sell fossils — which can only be collected with a permit — but it does sell rocks and minerals. The gift shop made about $60,000 in retail sales last year.

O'Byrne said the Nova Scotia Gem and Mineral Show is a "big economic boost" for the area, drumming up business not just for vendors at the show, but also for restaurants, gas stations and motels. She said it would be a "great loss" if the museum was not able to hold the event, which has taken place for more than 50 years.

But aside from those financial concerns, O'Byrne said she wouldn't want the designation to hamper the efforts of citizen scientists, who discover specimens such as Nova Scotia agate, stilbite, amethyst and copper in the area.

Preservation concerns

Helen Tyson, who owns Tysons' Fine Minerals in Parrsboro, echoed that sentiment. She has owned the shop with her husband Rod, who is the chair of the Cumberland Geological Society, since 2007.

"Every single day we have people coming in here and their parents say this is the highlight of their summer, this is the highlight of their trip.… That can't be damaged for anything."

But it's not the financial impact on the store that she's worried about. Tyson said she just wants to ensure that people are able to come to the area, pick up a rock, and "take it home, study it, love it."

The Parrsboro Rock and Mineral Shop was owned by Eldon George for 67 years before he sold it to the Fundy Geological Museum in 2015. (Stephanie vanKampen)

"The joy of geology is something that is such a treat," she said. "That thing is millions of years old. When you break that little rock open and you see that tiny little crystal in there, no other human being has ever seen that. I mean, how often do you get that in your life?"

Tyson added that while she understands the push to protect the area, collecting minerals is a form of preservation because otherwise, the tides will take the specimens away.

"Once they are exposed, the clock is ticking," she said. "If you leave it alone, erosion is going to turn it into mud on the bottom of the bay. And for some of these things, that is simply unacceptable. We are stewards of this material. We need to make sure that it's preserved for future generations."