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Saimaa awarded UNESCO Geopark status

International recognition places the region among world-class nature tourism destinations.

Local businesses hope the status will lead to an increase in visitors. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

The Saimaa region has received UNESCO Global Geopark status, the UN cultural and scientific body announced on Thursday.

The status is recognition that the Saimaa Geopark has met strict criteria, including a requirement that the region be home to a geological heritage of international significance.

"UNESCO status is a very important international recognition for the region and its actors. Geopark meets the tough international criteria. We are now equal with other major nature tourism destinations in the world. The status process has been challenging and long," said chair of Saimaa Geopark Jouni Riihelä.

The hope is that increased awareness, as a result of the UNESCO status, will bring more visitors to the region, Riihelä said.

Global network

Geoparks are described by UNESCO as areas where "sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development."

UNESCO Geopark status has been granted to more than 160 geological tourist destinations around the world.

Finland is home to two other geoparks, Rokua in North Ostrobothnia and Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas, an area covering 10 municipalities in South Ostrobothnia, Satakunta and Pirkanmaa.

Lake Saimaa is also home to the endangered Saimaa ringed seal. Image: Juha Metso / AOP

Previous conservation work was key to obtaining the Unesco status, organisers said. Sites belonging to the European Union's Natura 2000 project as well as the Lake Finland Charter played a role.

"In the Lake Finland Charter we promised to leave Saimaa in better condition than we found it for the next generation," Riihelä said.

The Saimaa Geopark covers the eastern municipalities of Sulkava, Ruokolahti, Juva, Savitaipale, Taipalsaari, Puumala, Lappeenranta, Imatra and Mikkeli.