|Suswa - Africa's first National Geopark?|
Having just completed a project that examined the geo-tourism potential of Kenya's Rift Valley volcano, Mt Suswa, Chris Wood from CS has now been asked to examine the feasibility of Suswa becoming Africa's first National Geopark. The request has come from the Mount Suswa Conservation Trust, a body created by the local Maasai community, supported by the Tourist Trust Fund of Kenya and the African Conservation Centre. The trust has recognised the special geological qualities of the volcano and the opportunities to enhance the income and living standards of the local people - a community of subsistence pastoralists - through the development of geotourism.
Mt Suswa is a trachyte-phonolite volcano with two calderas (large craters), one nested inside the other. The outer caldera is about 11km in diameter, while the inner one is up to 4km in diameter. The inner has spectacular form, because a large, tilted slab of the old volcano sits inside it, rather like a cork in a bottle. However, in this case the cork is surrounded by a 'ring graben', subsidence of which created a 200m-500m deep circular valley, or 'moat'. The inner 'island' of the caldera is therefore very difficult to reach and rarely visited, and inevitably it has been called 'The Lost World'. The volcano has many other interesting geological features, not least the large lava cone Ol Doinyo Onyoke that towers over the south side of the inner caldera, abundant steam vents (fumaroles) and an outstanding system of lava tube caves.
The first visit to Mt Suswa was to map and provide plans for the tourist development of the caves. Already a new access track is being created, which will bring tourists not only to the caves, but across the floor of the larger caldera and to spectacular viewpoints. The next stage will be to review the geotourism resources of the volcano and engage with Kenyan geologists in the formulation of a Geopark proposal to UNESCO.