Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve UNESCO World Heritage Designation: Pathways to Engage People in the Decision-Making Process
For the presence of the worlds oldest and largest fossil assemblages known, Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve (MPER) has been included in the Canadian Tentative list of potential United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) world heritage sites (WHS). To engage communities in the designation of MPER as a UNESCO WHS, visitors and residents attitudes toward the reserve were explored and facilitated workshops were carried out in 2010 and 2012. To expand the engagement process initiated in the reserve in 2010 and better understand the implications behind the designation of MPER as UNESCO WHS, our project focused on: 1) monitor attitudes of visitors to address concerns as things change; 2) develop in-depth research-oriented public involvement with stakeholder groups to document their attitudes, beliefs and values, and expectations in regard to the MPER UNESCO designation; and 3) provide specific recommendations for regional planning to enhance MPERs likelihood to become a UNESCO WHS. Personal interviews were carried out with visitors and stakeholders between July and January 2014. Mistaken Point Ambassadors Inc. was identified as the key stakeholder group to be involved in the research-oriented public involvement work as they play an important role in the UNESCO WHS designation process. Questionnaires with open-ended and close-ended items were used to explore visitors and stakeholders attitudes, beliefs and values, and expectations about the MPER UNESCO designation. In 2010 and 2013, visitors were mainly from Newfoundland and Ontario and of 55 years of age or more. While Newfoundlanders tended to have visited the area before, respondents from out-of province were coming to the area for the first time. In comparison to 2010, participants of the 2013 survey were more aware and knowledgeable about MPER and the UNESCO WHS nomination. Visitors strongly supported statements related to the importance of MPER, recognized the need to protect the area and restrict access to the fossils. Most respondents welcomed the UNESCO WHS designation as it could lead to world recognition of the site, and enhance funding and economic benefits to the area. Similar to the visitors, stakeholders recognized the importance of MPER and strongly valued this site. Stakeholders felt that through heritage status, MPER would obtain world recognition, better protection, develop economic opportunities, enhance local communities livelihood and foster education. While talking about issues currently jeopardizing the UNESCO WHS application process, four recurring challenges were identified by stakeholders: the dossier preparation, lack of funding and resources, long-term community involvement and visitor expectations. Key actors recommended to: 1) write a strong UNESCO WHS prospectus and work plan by engaging experts with a strong professional background and by broadening the work perspective beyond the community approach; 2) develop a formal funding proposal to be presented to oil companies, such as Hibernia management group, Stam and Exonmobil; 3) keep on carrying out the public involvement process to engage and educate the public and government representatives, and promote a long-term liaison between stakeholders, community and park representatives; and 4) offer a world class experience to tourists by implementing the interpretation activities offered in MPER. Continuing monitoring visitors perceptions about the UNESCO WHS designation is key to determine how support about the UNESCO WHS designation may change over time as visitation increases, awareness grows about the site, and differing management strategies are implemented. Such an understanding will provide hints of potential areas of conflict for managers in their future decision-making processes. If the aim of gaining UNESCO WHS status is to increase education, knowledge and visitation to the fossils, than a more proactive communication strategy is needed, one that makes this site well known across Canada and overseas. A first step toward improving the site visibility is developing a more interactive MPER website. Increasing talks about the site through presentations, radio broadcasting and stewardship of well-known ambassadors should also be pursued. Continuing to work with local communities, visitors and stakeholders will be key while further engaging in the UNESCO WHS designation process. By supporting this research, the Harris Centre has promoted and played a distinctive role in enhancing regional public engagement in decision making processes in MPER. The outcomes of this research are instrumental in enhancing the likelihood of the reserve to become a UNESCO WHS and to ensure the social, economic and cultural survival of the Avalon rural region.
30 Nov -0001
The Leslie Harris Centre Of Regional Policy And Development - The Applied Research Fund
Arts, Culture & Heritage
Strategic Research Theme
Community and Regional Development
Creative Arts, Culture and Heritage