Geoheritage as a Gateway to Developing a Conservation Ethic in High School Students from China and the United States

a mountain with a lake and a mountain in the backgrounda mountain with a lake and a mountain in the background
Volcanoes are true wonders of the planet; they are central to the formation, evolution and sustenance of biological systems; they form some of our deepest and most significant cultural attachments to the land; and they attract large numbers of visitors for their aesthetic appeal.
A recent summary of geoheritage and protected area management (Gordon, 2019) notes that while the protection of geosites remains the foundation of geoconservation, a broader discipline has been emerging that recognizes the links of geodiversity with landscape and biodiversity conservation, economic development, climate change adaptation, sustainable management of land and water, historical and cultural heritage, people's health and well-being, geotourism and the delivery of socio-economic benefits for local communities. Therefore, as well as intrinsic scientific value, growing emphasis is now placed on the wider intrinsic, cultural, aesthetic and ecological qualities of geodiversity and geoheritage and their contributions to a range of ecosystem services. Our focus in this study is to emphasize that geoheritage can serve as a gateway to developing a broader conservation ethic. The gateway leads from areas protected for geoheritage value to developing educational programs that have a broader aim of interpretation, education, and enjoyment. Ultimately these enjoyable educational experiences in areas of geoheritage value lead to a deeply felt conservation ethic. The US National Park Service recognizes the progression as “through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection” (Tilden 1957).

We have been working towards this goal through the expansion of a high school environmental education program in the United States, the National Conservation Foundation Envirothon, to China. The Envirothon is an environmental education program that culminates in the annual NCF-Envirothon Competition in which winning teams from participating states and Canadian provinces compete for recognition and scholarships by demonstrating their knowledge of environmental science and natural resource management. The program has a strong outdoor component, and is sponsored by the US Forest Service, the US Resource Conservation Service, and others. Much of the field education and field competitions are held in areas protected for their geoheritage and biodiversity values, and this use of geoheritage as a gateway to the broader educational goals is central to the program. The program is implemented locally by high school teachers; student teams work collaboratively over the school year to develop their knowledge of ecology and natural resource management and to practice their environmental problem-solving skills in preparation for Envirothon competitions. Envirothon began in Pennsylvania, USA, in 1979 and has grown since then to encompass the United States and Canada.
We have been seeking to broaden the influence of the Envirothon program and underlying conservation goals in China, including a well-attended workshop in Beijing in January 2020. With educational curriculum reform since 2000 in China, students are encouraged to have more project-based learning opportunities and field-based experiences. The group at Beijing Normal University has four professors and 28 graduate students that support hundreds of high school programs throughout China. The group helps top high schools to open project-based learning courses nationwide in China and has also organized the Geography Olympiad for high school students and the Environmental Maps Contest for youth in China. The Envirothon is a natural extension of this work and provides enhanced opportunities for international collaboration between the United States and China.On a broader scale in China, thereis a major program underway to identify newnational parks and UNESCO Global Geoparks to achievethis goal on a national level.Geoheritage value is a primary determinant ofwhichareas are used forEnvirothon field education and competitions; through this gateway students from both countries willhave educational, fun,and memorable experiences that will lead from understanding to appreciation toprotection.


Gordon, John (2019). Geoconservation Principles and Protected Area Management. International JournalofGeoheritage and Parks 7:199–210.Tilden, Freeman (1957). Interpreting Our Heritage. University of North Carolina Press, 212 pp. 
Geoheritage value is a primary determinant of which areas are used for Envirothon field education and competitions; through this gateway students from both countries will have educational, fun, and memorable experiences that will lead from understanding to appreciation to protection.

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