Science

Authorities shocked by something happening at a Utah park

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Tourists are tossing 200 million year old dinosaur tracks into a nearby reservoir, apparently unaware of their significance.

Visitors to Red Fleet State Park in Utah apparently cannot resist picking up large stones near a reservoir and then hurling them below to get a satisfying splash. The only problem is that the stones they are throwing are actually 200 million year old dinosaur tracks, and it has created a crisis of sorts for Utah park officials.

Red Fleet State Park is known for its dinosaur footprints, but many tourists who visit are not aware of that. And unfortunately vandalism of those tracks are increasing, officials say, with visitors dislodging the tracks at an alarming rate in just the last six months.

It has even prompted officials to consider hiring a dive team to retrieve some of the priceless rocks, although they realize that most of them will probably be destroyed anyway. Instead, officials are putting up signs warning tourists against throwing the rocks, which are often three to 17 inches in width. Authorities estimate that at least 10 of the larger more visible dinosaur footprints have been thrown into the reservoir.

“The dinosaur track site is deteriorating due to human impact,” the park wrote on their Facebook page recently. “There has been a substantial impact to the track site from individuals throwing rocks (most containing dinosaur tracks) into the water over the past 6 months. People come to our park from all over the country and world to see this amazing feature. It is not illegal to throw rocks into the water, it is illegal to displace these rocks which contain tracks. Be aware disturbing these rocks is considered an act of vandalism. Many tracks are very distinguishable to the lay person but many are not. This is why it is so important to not disturb ANY rocks at the dinosaur track-way. You may not be able to tell if the rock you are tossing has millions of year old dinosaur tracks imprinted in it or not.”

The full statement from Utah State Parks follows below.

Here at Utah State Parks, we have a big problem and we need your help to fix it.

Some visitors to Red Fleet State Park have been ripping up sandstone slabs containing 200-million-year-old dinosaur tracks and throwing them into the water.

While this problem is quite alarming, often times the people who are doing this have no idea they could be destroying millions of years of history, Park Manager Josh Hansen said.

“Some of the tracks are very distinct to the layperson,” Hansen said,”but just as many are not. That is why it is important to not disturb any rocks at the dinosaur trackway.”

People come to Red Fleet from across the country and the world to see wonders like these, Hansen said. By deteriorating the track site, people are taking away the experience from thousands of others. Not only that, but this act also constitutes a crime.

“It is illegal to displace rocks that contain the tracks,” Hansen said. “Disturbing them like this is an act of vandalism.”

This problem has increased within the last six months; with a conservative estimate of at least 10 dinosaur tracks vandalized in that time.

While there are existing signs in the area around the tracks, park staff have also started adding additional signs to help ensure people know to not disturb the site.

Utah State Parks believes education can play a big part in stopping this kind of behavior. To help combat it, we are asking everyone to spread the word. Please, do not throw any rocks in the dinosaur track area at Red Fleet State Park. Help us keep the area preserved and beautiful for visitors both tomorrow and for generations to come.

The following is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article about trace fossils.

A trace fossil, also ichnofossil, is a geological record of biological activity. Trace fossils may consist of impressions made on the substrate by an organism: for example, burrows, borings (bioerosion), urolites (erosion caused by evacuation of liquid wastes), footprints and feeding marks, and root cavities. The term in its broadest sense also includes the remains of other organic material produced by an organism — for example coprolites (fossilized droppings) or chemical markers — or sedimentological structures produced by biological means – for example, stromatolites. Trace fossils contrast with body fossils, which are the fossilized remains of parts of organisms’ bodies, usually altered by later chemical activity or mineralization.

Sedimentary structures, for example those produced by empty shells rolling along the sea floor, are not produced through the behaviour of an organism and not considered trace fossils.

The study of traces – ichnology – divides into paleoichnology, or the study of trace fossils, and neoichnology, the study of modern traces. Ichnological science offers many challenges, as most traces reflect the behaviour — not the biological affinity — of their makers. Accordingly, researchers classify trace fossils into form genera, based on their appearance and on the implied behaviour, or ethology, of their makers.

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