Joggins Fossil Cliffs
The Joggins Fossil Cliffs, a 689 ha palaeontological site along the coast of Nova Scotia (eastern Canada), have been described as the “coal age Galápagos” due to their wealth of fossils from the Carboniferous period (354 to 290 million years ago). The rocks of this site are considered to be iconic for this period of the history of Earth and are the world’s thickest and most comprehensive record of the Pennsylvanian strata (dating back 318 to 303 million years) with the most complete known fossil record of terrestrial life from that time. These include the remains and tracks of very early animals and the rainforest in which they lived, left in situ, intact and undisturbed. With its 14.7 km of sea cliffs, low bluffs, rock platforms and beach, the site groups remains of three ecosystems: estuarine bay, floodplain rainforest and fire prone forested alluvial plain with freshwater pools. It offers the richest assemblage known of the fossil life in these three ecosystems with 96 genera and 148 species of fossils and 20 footprint groups. The site is listed as containing outstanding examples representing major stages in the history of Earth.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Joggins Fossil Cliffs have been termed the “coal age Galápagos” and are the world reference site for the “Coal Age”. Their complete and accessible fossil-bearing rock exposures provide the best evidence known of the iconic features of the Pennsylvanian (or Carboniferous) period of Earth History.
Criterion (viii): Earth’s history, geological and geomorphic features and processes: The “grand exposure” of rocks at Joggins Fossil Cliffs contains the best and most complete known fossil record of terrestrial life in the iconic “Coal Age”: the Pennsylvanian (or Carboniferous) period in Earth’s history. The site bears witness to the first reptiles in Earth history, which are the earliest representatives of the amniotes, a group of animals that includes reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals. Upright fossil trees are preserved at a series of levels in the cliffs together with animal, plant and trace fossils that provide environmental context and enable a complete reconstruction to be made of the extensive fossil forests that dominated land at this time, and are now the source of most of the world’s coal deposits. The property has played a vital role in the development of seminal geological and evolutionary principles, including through the work of Sir Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin, for which the site has been referred to as the “coal age Galápagos”.
The boundaries of the property are clearly defined in relation to logical stratigraphic criteria and include all of the areas necessary to fully display the fossil record of Joggins including the cliff face and foreshore rock exposures, and include both the most fossiliferous strata and younger and older rocks that provide geological context. The inland extent of the property is defined based on the eroding top of the cliffs and this is a fully justifiable and logical basis to cope with the dynamic nature of this coastal property. A relatively narrow buffer zone is defined, which is not part of the inscribed property, but is sufficient to control coastal development which could otherwise threaten the values of the property.
Requirements for Protection and Management
The property has effective legal protection and has the strong support of all levels of government, including in relation to the provision of funding. Some aspects of the legislation, such as for the licensing of fossil collection are cumbersome and would benefit from review, although can be better implemented if site managers are empowered to do so. The site is well resourced, including through the provision of a new visitor centre, and is managed in a way that can be considered to set international standards. The effective process of community involvement and partnerships between scientists, museums and economic interests are also noted, and the biggest challenge of the property will be to maintain the level of performance and resources required in the future.