Linking geological heritage and geoethics with a particular emphasis on palaeontological heritage: the new concept of ‘palaeontoethics’
Geoconservation and geoethics are two emergent domains in geosciences. During the last decade, both topics have increasingly gained the attention of geoscientists and the society, but the main geoethical dilemmas related to the conservation and management of geoheritage are not clearly identified yet. This work aims at providing an overview on the meaning and scope of geoethics and how it intersects geoheritage and the practice of geoconservation. Some case studies—many of which are under current debate and have a high potential as geoeducational resources—are presented for addressing ethical, social and cultural settings as well as dilemmas affecting geoheritage. We find that there are particular cases (mostly concerning the trade of fossils, and in particular the growing concern about activities that rely on amber from Myanmar) for which a clear dichotomy of views makes them much more problematic and complex. These cases deserve more suitable legal frameworks that help implement more balanced ethical standards and practice guidelines for geoconservation, guarantee human rights and needs in relation to that heritage and contribute to the advancement of geosciences. Particular attention is given to palaeontological heritage, as fossils are among the most threatened elements of the Earth’s diversity and are in need of more effective and statutory protection measures. In the context of geoethics applied to palaeontological heritage, and given the need of a clear understanding of what ethics in palaeontology means, a new concept—palaeontoethics—is proposed and formally defined.