Local communities have an important role to play in the management and development of geoparks, said experts at the second Asia-Pacific Geoparks Network Symposium held in Hanoi on July 18.

The symposium's theme revolved around sustainable development in the region through the promotion of geoparks, which are defined by UNESCO as a territory encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance, not only for geographic reasons, but also by virtue of archaeological, ecological or cultural value.

Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, located in the northernmost province of Ha Giang , is the first geopark recognised by the Global Geoparks Network in Vietnam , and the second geopark in Southeast Asia .

According to Dr Pham Khoi Nguyen, Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, concepts such as geoparks, geoheritage and geotourism, though relatively new, have already taken shape and are a strong trend in many societies.

According to Katherine Muller Marin, Representative of the Hanoi-based UNESCO Office in Vietnam , geoparks such as Dong Van promote the concept of conservation while stimulating educational opportunities and socio-economic activities.

Marin said the geopark model is particularly valuable for Asian countries such as Vietnam , which has vulnerable and disadvantaged populations that inhabite mountainous and remote areas.

"It is necessary to ensure that ethnic minorities and local communities can participate in the management of geoparks as well as continue to benefit from the natural and cultural resources found there."

She also added that it is important to ensure the intangible heritage, including customs, traditions, knowledge, lifestyles and other local practices, are taken into consideration and respected by government officials and everyone else who comes into contact with the local people.

Patrick McKeever, representative of the Global Geoparks Network cum Co-Chairperson of European Geoparks Network said local people should be empowered to take care of their own natural resources in a way that respects their traditions.

McKeever also urged everyone to respect the "philosophy of geoparks" that takes into account animal rights and other ethical issues, in particular, he said shops selling wildlife or gemstones are forbidden in geoparks, warning that those who do not respect the principles would be excluded from the geoparks network.

Sen Chin Ly, Vice Chairman of the People's Committee of Ha Giang province, said the province is determined to develop Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark in line with international standards set by the Global Geoparks Network and hope to receive more support from international organisations and investors to develop the geopark in a sustainable way.

The symposium drew over 150 delegates from 16 Asia-Pacific and European countries./.