Pilbara’s ancient rocks pose tourism potential

Shannon BeattiePilbara News
Rock formations in Marble Bar.
Camera IconRock formations in Marble Bar. Credit: Martin J. Van Kranendonk, Martin Van Kranendonk

The Pilbara’s ancient rocks could be the key to discovering if there is life on Mars, while adding another string to the region’s tourism bow.

Rock formations in the area are more than 3.5 billion years old, making them the oldest, best-preserved rocks on the planet, as well as the oldest traces of life on Earth.

Scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency visited Marble Bar last month and plan to use the record of single-celled organisms in the Pilbara to inform where expeditions heading to Mars next year should look for life.

Last week, scientists and local tourism stakeholders met in Karratha to discuss the possibility of establishing a geotourism industry in the region.

Australian Centre for Astrobiology director Martin Van Kranendonk said the Pilbara was the only place which had a record of life in the Earth’s very early history leading up to complex forms.

“It’s a touchstone for the international science community and also for humanity,” he said.

“We’re all interested in the idea of where we come from, how did we get here and are we alone in the universe — all of that could be answered in the Pilbara.”

Dr Van Kranendonk has released a guidebook on outcrops near Marble Bar, which is the region’s ancient core, to the general public.

“That area links up to Karijini National Park, to the dinosaur footprints in Broome and to the living stromatolites in Shark Bay,” he said.

“We’re investigating whether we can enrich the existing Warlu Way in terms of a trail of discovery through the North West which connects all of those sites.”

At the Pilbara Geoheritage Meeting in August, the focus was on ensuring the protection of the rocks, before trying to attract tourists to the area.

“Tourism can cause problems if it’s not done well, so we’re trying to understand the steps necessary to protect the rock first and then share the stories later,” Dr Van Kranendonk said.

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