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Puyango, Ecuador Petrified Forest, a Geological Heritage of the Cretaceous Albian-Middle, and Its Relevance for the Sustainable Development of Geotourism

Puyango, Ecuador Petrified Forest, a Geological Heritage of the Cretaceous Albian-Middle, and Its... sustainability Article Puyango, Ecuador Petrified Forest, a Geological Heritage of the Cretaceous Albian-Middle, and Its Relevance for the Sustainable Development of Geotourism 1 , 2 , 3 , 1 , 4 , 4 Fernando Morante-Carballo * , Geanella Herrera-Narváez *, Nelson Jiménez-Orellana 1 , 4 and Paúl Carrión-Mero Centro de Investigación y Proyectos Aplicados a las Ciencias de la Tierra (CIPAT), ESPOL Polytechnic University, Campus Gustavo Galindo Km. 30.5 Vía Perimetral, 9015863 Guayaquil, Ecuador; pcarrion@espol.edu.ec Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Matemáticas (FCNM), ESPOL Polytechnic University, Campus Gustavo Galindo Km. 30.5 Vía Perimetral, 9015863 Guayaquil, Ecuador Geo-recursos y Aplicaciones GIGA, ESPOL Polytechnic University, Campus Gustavo Galindo Km. 30.5 Vía Perimetral, 9015863 Guayaquil, Ecuador Facultad de Ingeniería en Ciencias de la Tierra (FICT), ESPOL Polytechnic University, Campus Gustavo Galindo Km 30.5 Vía Perimetral, 9015863 Guayaquil, Ecuador; nmjimene@espol.edu.ec * Correspondence: fmorante@espol.edu.ec (F.M.-C.); geamiher@espol.edu.ec (G.H.-N); Tel.: +59-396-976-0276 (F.M.-C.) Received: 7 July 2020; Accepted: 6 August 2020; Published: 14 August 2020 Abstract: Geodiversity treaties have multiplied and given rise to geological heritage as a singular value of protection and preservation for territories. The Puyango Petrified Forest (PPF) is a recognized Ecuadorian reserve, which was declared a National Heritage Treasure. It has an area of 2659 hectares, and it is located in the south of Ecuador, between the provinces of El Oro and Loja. The petrified trunks and trees were buried by volcanic lava, dating from the Cretaceous Period, 96 to 112 million years ago. Thus, silicification and carbonization, two important fossilization events, have produced hundreds of samples of paleontological wealth in Puyango. The objective of this work is to methodologically assess the geodiversity of a fraction of the PPF by registering its geological heritage and value for its preservation and sustainable development. The methodology is based on: (i) Analysis of information on the territory used for tourist visits, as a pilot study area. Presentation of paleontological components and their main sections to enhance their geotouristics value; (ii) Assessment of the geological heritage for its geotourism categorization with a recognized scientific methodology and one proposed by the co-authors propose; and (iii) Analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) as a guide for protection and development strategies. Findings reveal the high geotourism potential for a Geopark Project in Puyango, since only 300 hectares are used for tourism and the remaining area is a virgin environment for research and improving knowledge of geodiversity and biodiversity. Keywords: petrified forest; sustainable development; geodiversity; biodiversity; Puyango; geopark 1. Introduction Geodiversity considers all the geological elements of the Earth’s crust, from the landscape to its internal structure that constitutes the various materials such as rocks, minerals and fossils. It is an inanimate part of nature, but at the same time significant to sustaining biodiversity, since the soil and subsoil generated by a series of geological processes are what sustain it, and what together are part of the natural beauty of a site; however, geodiversity has been downplayed by historically giving Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579; doi:10.3390/su12166579 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 2 of 24 greater prominence to biodiversity [1]. Thus, the term geodiversity refers to the quality, spectacularity, and beauty of a site of an abiotic nature, which is why it deserves conservation [2]. The protection and conservation of geodiversity is an issue that until recently was not understood. However, this failure is being overcome thanks to the close link that exists between biodiversity and geodiversity, which can be achieved through proper management to preserve biocenosis and the biotope in an integral way [3,4]. Currently, the geological heritage is promoted and protected adequately towards the sustainable development of geotourism; this term emphasizes a form of tourism to natural areas that focuses explicitly on geology and landscape, promoting geosite tourism and the conservation of geodiversity for a better understanding of the earth sciences through appreciation and learning [5]. In geological terms, a geosite is defined by its scientific value that demonstrates the importance of the geological heritage of a specific area, which must be relevant and of importance to science [6]. This is accomplished through independent visits to geological features, such as geo-trails and viewpoints, guided tours, geo-activities, and the sponsorship of geosite visitor centres [7,8]. The term Geoheritage considers particular elements of geodiversity (petrological, geomorphological, structural, mineralogical, paleontological, stratigraphic, hydrogeological, pedological, among others) with a high scientific value [9]. Paleontological heritage of a geosite is the study of its scientific value through fossils, which are testimonies of life in the past, and which also reflect certain events in the geological history of Earth. Around them and the deposits in which they were found, numerous scientific features converge that can be considered objectively, allowing their value to be established; such as fossil types, relative age, state of conservation, among others. Therefore, paleontological heritage is part of the geological and natural heritage [10]. Geodiversity is evident that the fossils and deposits have meaning and provide information on the history of Life and Earth. Morevoer, the scientific component is relevant to place fossils and sites on a theoretical scale of paleontological value [11]. Fossil forests or petrified forests register a remarkable geological-paleontological heritage characterized by the wood of trees that has been buried under sediments and preserved by the absence of oxygen [12]. This type of fossilization is known as permineralization and emphasizes the replacement of the body’s molecules by minerals. In this case, petrified wood explains vegetal biodiversity of diverse historical times since it preserves its original structure to a microscopic level. There are more than 20 specimens of petrified forests worldwide and only 3 belong to America— the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona-United States, the Petrified Forest of Santa Cruz Natural Monument in Patagonia, Argentina, and the Puyango Petrified Forest in Ecuador. All these forests are remarkable for their age, surface and paleontological wealth [13]. In Ecuador, forests cover 42% of the country’s total area; half of the area is used for production [14]. Dry forests are of particular importance, since they have less biodiversity than rainforests, but they are the habitat of more than 130 species of birds. These forests are located in two di erent areas: (a) on the central Pacific coast, which corresponds to the provinces of Esmeraldas, Manabí, Santa Elena and Guayas; and (b) in the southern coast and western foothills of the Andes in El Oro and Loja that comprise the equatorial dry forest with a unique ecosystem in the world [15]. In the past, 35% of western Ecuador was covered by dry forest. However, 75% of the area has disappeared due to deforestation pressures and growth of the agricultural and livestock frontier. Furthermore, PPF is recognized for its heritage as a true paleontological jewel that contains a large number of petrified trees of approximately 100 million years old, where the largest collection of petrified wood in the world is located. One of its largest specimens is the Petrino with dimensions of 2 m in diameter and 15 m in length. Its magnificence is given by a large number of petrified trunks that open the door to family, educational, scientific, geological-paleontological and naturist tourism. PPF is a unique beauty in the region with remnants of trees such as trunks and petrified leaves of Mesozoic flora, and fossils of invertebrates such as bivalves, ammonites, echinoderms, among others. Furthermore, its biodiversity coexists protected by the great slopes and breaks of the area [16,17]. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 3 of 24 In this regard, this study aims to respond the question: Could we define PPF as a geological heritage and a driving force for geotourism for its spectacularity, good exposure, paleontology, biostratigraphy, and stratigraphic content? Hence, the objective is to methodologically assess the geodiversity of a fraction of PPF as a pilot project, register its outstanding components (geological heritage) and value it for the preservation and sustainable development of the entire forest. For these purposes, an assessment is carried out using the scientific method of the Spanish Inventory of Places of Geological Interest (IELIG, acronym in Spanish) [18]. Moreover, some research-level experiences are recorded to assess sites of geological interest that could be considered as geosites [19,20]. 2. Overview of the Study Area Puyango forest is in the southern region of Ecuador, located in the canton Las Lajas, province of El Oro and Puyango-Alamor, canton-parish of the province of Loja. The cantons are divided by the Puyango river, located 7 km from the border with Peru. The forest occupies an extension of 2658 hectares (Figure 1), and in 1971, it was discovered by the academic sta of the Huaquillas night school that named it “Petrified Forest of Puyango” [20]. In 1973, PPF was declared Cultural Heritage On 9th January 1987 through Ministerial Agreement No. 22, it was declared a protected forest and vegetation due to the e orts of El Oro Cultural Development Center and the Central Bank of Ecuador. Later, in March 1988, it was declared part of the Natural Heritage of Ecuador [21,22]. This region is mountainous, with heights between 360 and 500 m.a.s.l. The current flora and fauna represent a group of transitional forms between the Pacific lowlands and the Andean elevations [23]. The biodiversity of the area corresponds to a tropical dry forest, which is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world, and its species belong to the Tumbesino Center of endemism owned by Ecuador and Peru [8]. Due to the geomorphological conditions of the area, caused by tectonic events and modeled by the erosion of rivers, PPF presents a great potential for geotourism appeal in this area for the exposure of petrified logs, a product of the fossilization process [24,25]. Puyango Petrified Forest (PPF) is considered one of the few remnants of tropical dry forest in the southwest of the country, where steep slopes and streams such as El Guineo, Las Concreciones, El Chirimoyo, El Limón, Sábalos and Cochurco have preserved the endemic vegetation of its ecosystem and other areas of secondary forest in recovery. In fact, stratigraphic units reveal a fossil richness of invertebrates of the phylum Mollusca and microfossils of foraminifera and calcareous nanofossils [26]. Puyango is an open book of geological succession and paleontological information of high scientific value for society, since it is one of the most representative and relevant forests in South America. PPF has been compared to the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, United States—the largest in the world with more than 20,000 hectares. It has petrified tree trunks belonging to the Araucarioxylon arizonicum that are preserved from a conifer corresponding to the Late Triassic Period, already extinct in our times. Moreover, it has fern plant fossils, animals such as the Chinle frogs of the Chinle Geological Formation, and it is the habitat of a great variety of mammals, fauna, birds, reptiles, and amphibians in a desert environment [27]. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 4 of 24 Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 24 Figure 1. Study area of the Puyango Petrified Forest and its geosites in the provinces of El Oro and Loja. Modified from [28]. Figure 1. Study area of the Puyango Petrified Forest and its geosites in the provinces of El Oro and Loja. Modified from [28]. Before becoming a tropical dry forest, Puyango was a sea, which dried up and transformed into large hectares of forests and animals. Due to natural cataclysms, geological movements and time, Before becoming a tropical dry forest, Puyango was a sea, which dried up and transformed into the organisms buried underground arose on the surface forming a trace of the planet’s remote past large hectares of forests and animals. Due to natural cataclysms, geological movements and time, the and a transcendent number of ancient and representative fossils that correspond to marine organisms organisms buried underground arose on the surface forming a trace of the planet’s remote past and that currently oscillate between 60 and 120 million years [26]. In this regard, Puyango emerged under a transcendent number of ancient and representative fossils that correspond to marine organisms that coastal and terrestrial marine conditions in a relatively narrow basin caused by the continuous erosive currently oscillate between 60 and 120 million years [26]. In this regard, Puyango emerged under tectonism, deformation, displacement, and deposits of pyroclastic materials during the Cretaceous. coastal and terrestrial marine conditions in a relatively narrow basin caused by the continuous Before the Andes rose to the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago, gymnosperm forests originated erosive tectonism, deformation, displacement, and deposits of pyroclastic materials during the on a relatively flat area like the lithified sediments that currently lean in di erent directions due to Cretaceous. Before the Andes rose to the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago, gymnosperm folding and tectonism. During this period, the area had a warm temperature. However, with the forests originated on a relatively flat area like the lithified sediments that currently lean in different floods and volcanic activity east of the Andes, the forests were destroyed and deposits of buried directions due to folding and tectonism. During this period, the area had a warm temperature. trunk layers in alternating sequences of siltstones, sandstones, graywackes and conglomerates were However, with the floods and volcanic activity east of the Andes, the forests were destroyed and reestablished by erosion [29]. The Andes mountain range slowly submerged the forest, placing it deposits of buried trunk layers in alternating sequences of siltstones, sandstones, graywackes and south of its current position in a subtropical climate along with calcium carbonate deposits and the conglomerates were reestablished by erosion [29]. The Andes mountain range slowly submerged the presence of marine fossil invertebrates belonging to shallow water. The geological formation of the forest, placing it south of its current position in a subtropical climate along with calcium carbonate site is defined as a sequence of sedimentary rocks of the Late Cretaceous period formed by thin deposits and the presence of marine fossil invertebrates belonging to shallow water. The geological layers of calcareous black shales, crystalline, and massive black limestones, volcanic agglomerates, formation of the site is defined as a sequence of sedimentary rocks of the Late Cretaceous period gray-green siliceous shales, brown shales, and volcano-sedimentary shales (Figure 2). In this type formed by thin layers of calcareous black shales, crystalline, and massive black limestones, volcanic of Cretaceous (Albian-Middle) age materials, the petrified wood is found and in the upper part of agglomerates, gray-green siliceous shales, brown shales, and volcano-sedimentary shales (Figure 2). the Coquina volcanic material, brown calcareous clays with mollusks and ammonites. In addition, In this type of Cretaceous (Albian-Middle) age materials, the petrified wood is found and in the upper a decreasing sedimentary volcanic grain sequence, clayey sandstones, tobaceous silt with petrified part of the Coquina volcanic material, brown calcareous clays with mollusks and ammonites. In wood and reddish clay can be observed [30]. The trunks were dragged in an aqueous medium of addition, a decreasing sedimentary volcanic grain sequence, clayey sandstones, tobaceous silt with remains of pyroclastic materials and deposited together with the sediments in a marine environment petrified wood and reddish clay can be observed [30]. The trunks were dragged in an aqueous where they were covered by sediments as a result of the erosion of the Andes. Sediments are divided medium of remains of pyroclastic materials and deposited together with the sediments in a marine into four geological formations such as the Zapotillo, Cazaderos, Ciano, Ambín and Progreso. Marine environment where they were covered by sediments as a result of the erosion of the Andes. Sediments are divided into four geological formations such as the Zapotillo, Cazaderos, Ciano, Ambín and Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 24 Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 5 of 24 Progreso. Marine invertebrate fossils such as gastropods, ostracods, and bivalves, which are associated with microfossils of the order of the foraminifera and calcareous nanophosiles of the invertebrate fossils such as gastropods, ostracods, and bivalves, which are associated with microfossils Cretaceous (Middle Albian) age, are found in the layers of sedimentary materials [31]. The Puyango of the order of the foraminifera and calcareous nanophosiles of the Cretaceous (Middle Albian) age, river is the limit between the provinces of El Oro and Loja and represents a great geological fault in are found in the layers of sedimentary materials [31]. The Puyango river is the limit between the the East–West direction. It has caused the folding of rocks at the gorges of El Chirimoyo, Cochurco provinces of El Oro and Loja and represents a great geological fault in the East–West direction. It has and El Limón streams [32,33]. caused the folding of rocks at the gorges of El Chirimoyo, Cochurco and El Limón streams [32,33]. Figure 2. Geological map of the Las Lajas and Puyango cantons of the provinces of El Oro and Loja respectively. Modified from [28]. Figure 2. Geological map of the Las Lajas and Puyango cantons of the provinces of El Oro and Loja respectively. Modified from [28]. 3. Materials and Methods 3. Materials and Methods The proposed methodology for this study comprised three phases (Figure 3): (i) analysis of information from the pilot study area, the case of the Puyango Petrified Forest, scientific information The proposed methodology for this study comprised three phases (Figure 3): (i) analysis of regarding its geological interest, the presentation the paleontological components and their main information from the pilot study area, the case of the Puyango Petrified Forest, scientific information geotouristic sections; (ii) assessment of the heritage site, using the methodology of the Spanish regarding its geological interest, the presentation the paleontological components and their main Inventory of Places of Geological Interest (IELIG, acronym in Spanish) and another proposal by authors geotouristic sections; (ii) assessment of the heritage site, using the methodology of the Spanish to assess its geotouristics potential; and (iii) the results were confirmed with a Strengths, Weaknesses, Inventory of Places of Geological Interest (IELIG, acronym in Spanish) and another proposal by authors Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis, to assess the heritage site status, and propose sustainable to assess its geotouristics potential; and (iii) the results were confirmed with a Strengths, Weaknesses, development strategies in the SWOT matrix [34]. Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis, to assess the heritage site status, and propose sustainable development strategies in the SWOT matrix [34]. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 6 of 24 Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 6 of 24 Figure 3. Flowchart of the methodology used for research. Figure 3. Flowchart of the methodology used for research. 3.1. First Phase: Identification of the Pilot Area 3.1. First Phase: Identification of the Pilot Area In the first phase, the researchers realized a technical visit about the outstanding characteristics of In the first phase, the researchers realized a technical visit about the outstanding characteristics the studied forest, which was carried out with a tourist guide and some national tourists. The route of the studied forest, which was carried out with a tourist guide and some national tourists. The route of the place consists of six stations of great geological and paleontological interest, in addition to of the place consists of six stations of great geological and paleontological interest, in addition to the the collection of historical and scientific information carried out in the sector [26,29,30] through the collection of historical and scientific information carried out in the sector [26,29,30] through the configuration of a database in scientific publications, works outreach, project reporting and data configuration of a database in scientific publications, works outreach, project reporting and data collection through expert interviews as the basis for further evaluation. This route included the use of collection through expert interviews as the basis for further evaluation. This route included the use database in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to obtain a map of the tourist route recorded in the of database in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to obtain a map of the tourist route recorded in Puyango forest. the Puyango forest. Finally, this phase included the description geological, paleontological aspects and relevant Finally, this phase included the description geological, paleontological aspects and relevant observations of the geotouristics potential of seventeen possible geosites. We also presented its observations of the geotouristics potential of seventeen possible geosites. We also presented its paleontological components that give the forest an important scientific interest for geologists and paleontological components that give the forest an important scientific interest for geologists and paleontologists. Much of its evidence was recorded in fossils such as petrified wood samples and paleontologists. Much of its evidence was recorded in fossils such as petrified wood samples and remains of mollusc shell moulds that were found in some streams belonging to the provinces of El remains of mollusc shell moulds that were found in some streams belonging to the provinces of El Oro and Loja, giving great geotouristics interest to the forest. Besides that, a stratigraphic column Oro and Loja, giving great geotouristics interest to the forest. Besides that, a stratigraphic column belonging to the Las Concreciones stream was described, and finally, it showed pictures of marine belonging to the Las Concreciones stream was described, and finally, it showed pictures of marine fossil invertebrates of the classes of pelecypod and cephalopod molluscs. fossil invertebrates of the classes of pelecypod and cephalopod molluscs. 3.2. Second Phase: Quantitative and Qualitative Evaluation 3.2. Second Phase: Quantitative and Qualitative Evaluation Moreover, the applied methodology comprises two factors: (1) intrinsic value of the Site of Moreover, the applied methodology comprises two factors: (1) intrinsic value of the Site of Geological Interest (LIG, acronym in Spanish), highlighting the geological aspects, and (2) use-value Geological Interest (LIG, acronym in Spanish), highlighting the geological aspects, and (2) use-value of of the LIG. Therefore, with the collaboration of paleontologist Nelson Jiménez and archaeologist the LIG. Therefore, with the collaboration of paleontologist Nelson Jiménez and archaeologist Jorge Jorge Marcos, experts who evaluate the scientific, didactic and touristic premises value, surveys are Marcos, experts who evaluate the scientific, didactic and touristic premises value, surveys are collected. The experts assign weights to each premise of the methodology developed in [18] (Table 1), collected. The experts assign weights to each premise of the methodology developed in [18] (Table where the degrees of Scientific interest (Si), Didactic interest (Di) and Touristic interest (Ti) are obtained. 1), where the degrees of Scientific interest (Si), Didactic interest (Di) and Touristic interest (Ti) are The scores of each parameter vary from 0, 1, 2 and 4, where 0 is the lowest score and 4 the highest, obtained. The scores of each parameter vary from 0, 1, 2 and 4, where 0 is the lowest score and 4 the scores that are multiplied by the weight of the individual interests given in the methodology (Table 1). highest, scores that are multiplied by the weight of the individual interests given in the methodology (Table 1). Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 7 of 24 Table 1. Indicators and weights used for the quantitative assessment of Sites of Geological Interest (LIGs). Modified from [18]. IELIG Methodology Scientific Weight (Sw), Didactic Weight (Dw), Tourist Weight (Tv), Fragility Weight (Fw) and Vulnerability due to Anthropogenic Threats Weight (Vw) Weight Indicators/Parameters Punctuation Sw Dw Tw Fw Vw Representativeness 30 5 Prototype location character 10 5 Degree of scientific knowledge of the place 15 State of conservation 10 5 Observation conditions 10 5 5 Rarity 15 5 Geological diversity 10 10 Didactic content 20 Logistics infrastructure 15 5 Accessibility 15 10 Association with other elements of the natural 5 5 and/or cultural heritage Magnificence or beauty 5 20 0–4 Population density (potential aggression) 5 5 5 Proximity to recreational areas (immediate 5 5 potential demand) Informative content/Informative use detected 15 Potential to carry out touristic and recreational activities Socioeconomic environment 10 LIG size 15 40 Vulnerability to plunder 30 Natural threats 30 Proximity to anthropic activities (infrastructure) Interest for mining 15 Site protection regime 15 Physical or indirect protection 15 Accessibility (potential assault) 15 Place ownership regime 10 Total 100 100 100 100 100 Then, the total provides the value of Si, Di and Ti. If the LIG exceeds 266 points, it is considered a place of “Very high” interest. Hence, the scores between 134 and 266 will be of “High” interest, and those lower than 134 points will be considered to be of “Medium” interest. The following equations are defined for the value of each interest: n parameters Si = Puntuation  Scienti f ic weight (1) i=parameter n parameters Di = Puntuation  Didactic weight (2) i=parameter n parameters Ti = Puntuation  Tourist weight (3) i=parameter Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 8 of 24 Furthermore, a qualitative evaluation about conservation of the site is achieved, where the Susceptibility of Degradation (SD) of the site is evaluated based on the Fragility (F) and the vulnerability due to anthropogenic Threats (T). With the SD, researchers can obtain the Protection Priority (PP) for Si, Di, Ti of the LIG and rank the interests according to the PP value in its di erent vertices: scientific (SPP), didactic (DPP), touristic-recreation (TPP), and global (PP). Taking the threshold of the pilot project in the Iberian Cordillera [18] for a given value of the SD as reference, if the value is higher than 26, the PP degree “High” of the LIG. If the SD is equal to 26, the PP degree is “Medium”. The “Medium-high” and “Medium-low” PP will be around 8. To obtain the values of fragility (F) and threat (T) that allow prioritizing and monitoring of the conservation status, where it is susceptible to degradation, and to quantify the priorities SPP, DPP, TPP, and PP, the researchers used the following equations: n parameters F = Puntuation  Fragility weight (4) i=parameter n parameters T = Puntuation  Threat weight (5) i=parameter SD = ((F  T)  1/400) (6) 2 2 SPP = Si  SD  1/400 (7) 2 2 DPP = Di  SD  1/400 (8) 2 2 TPP = Ti  SD  1/400 (9) 2 2 [( ) ] PP = Si + Di + Ti /3  SD  1/400 (10) Moreover, the authors include a completed form of the proposed methodology that includes the Scientific, Didactic, Tourist and Popular Interest factors with Accessibility, Sensitivity and Conservation status (SDTPI-ASC), considering the 17 LIGs of relevant geological-paleontological importance. This approach strengthens the evaluated geological heritage. For this purpose, the interest categories are divided into Scientific interest (Si), Didactic interest (Di) and Touristic interest (Ti) and Popularization interest (Pi), with its sections on accessibility to the place, sensitivity to plunder and current conservation status, as a basis for future studies. 3.3. Third Phase: Strategies In this phase, based on expert judgment, the SWOT matrix configuration was done, with experiences from technical visits and studies in the Puyango Petrified Forest (BPP). This matrix allows establishing opportunities for geotourism development, identifying strengths, weaknesses and threats. The particular singularity of the territory in its geological and paleontological heritage has been highlighted, with a high interest for national and international geologists interested in investigating the geological record of the place, the scientific, educational and recreational use to strengthen the local economy. There is a high fossil content, pleated structures, sedimentary, volcanic, metamorphic rocks with a natural, integral and biodiverse perspective, with samples of petrified trunks, pelecypods, macrofossils and ammonites. In the analysis of experts, the limitations or problems of the geosites are also considered, to turn them into new strategies for local development. A SWOT analysis was carried out to assess the conservation status of the heritage site and to propose sustainable development strategies in a SWOT matrix [34], where the Puyango geopark project has great potential to promote the development of geotourism in the zone. Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 24 macrofossils and ammonites. In the analysis of experts, the limitations or problems of the geosites are also considered, to turn them into new strategies for local development. A SWOT analysis was carried out to assess the conservation status of the heritage site and to propose sustainable development strategies in a SWOT matrix [34], where the Puyango geopark Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 9 of 24 project has great potential to promote the development of geotourism in the zone. 4. Results 4. Results 4.1. Identification of the Pilot Area 4.1. Identification of the Pilot Area The identification of the pilot area includes the visit of the tourist trail carried out in the Puyango The identification of the pilot area includes the visit of the tourist trail carried out in the Puyango Petrified Forest (PPF), in the province of El Oro. This guided route lasts approximately 45 min and Petrified Forest (PPF), in the province of El Oro. This guided route lasts approximately 45 min and observation stops are made at the stations: (1) Lava flows, (2) Path of the Araucarias, that is a genus observation stops are made at the stations: (1) Lava flows, (2) Path of the Araucarias, that is a genus of of evergreen coniferous trees in the family Araucariaceae, (3) Deposit of petrified logs, (4) evergreen coniferous trees in the family Araucariaceae, (3) Deposit of petrified logs, (4) Carboniferous Carboniferous zones, (5) Path of the Giant, and (6) Giant Petrine (Figure 4). zones, (5) Path of the Giant, and (6) Giant Petrine (Figure 4). Figure 4. Map of the Puyango Petrified Forest tourist trail, El Oro Province [28]. For a better Figscientific ure 4. Map r efer of th ence e Puy about ango P LIGs, etrified Table Fores 2t details tourist tthe rail,important El Oro Prov geological ince [28]. aspects such as geological structures and type of rocks found in the geosite, as well as paleontological aspects that For a better scientific reference about LIGs, Table 2 details the important geological aspects such stand out for their fossil content, the type of fossilization and the number of petrified trunks found in as geological structures and type of rocks found in the geosite, as well as paleontological aspects that each geosite which makes it an excellent geotouristic remnant. stand out for their fossil content, the type of fossilization and the number of petrified trunks found Some of the LIGs mentioned in Table 2 belong to the province of El Oro, such as the streams in each geosite which makes it an excellent geotouristic remnant. Sábalos, Las Palmas, El Tigre, El Guineo, El Gringo, Quemazón and in the province of Loja are the El Chirimoyo, Cochurco, El Limón, Las Concreciones and Tunima (Figure 5). In the Cochurco, Table 2. Geological and paleontological aspects of the LIGs. El Chirimoyo and Las Concreciones streams, remains of mollusk shell molds such as pelecypods and ammonites have been found in the limestones [26]. Paleontological N° LIGs Geological Aspects Observations Aspects PPF Tourist Volcano-sedimentary It contains abundant It is a guided tourist trail rocks. remains of well- route in the tropical Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 10 of 24 Table 2. Geological and paleontological aspects of the LIGs. N LIGs Geological Aspects Paleontological Aspects Observations It contains abundant It is a guided tourist route 1 PPF Tourist trail Volcano-sedimentary rocks. remains of well-preserved in the tropical dry forest petrified trunks. (fauna and flora). Geological domain: Alamor, Lancones Basin. At the base, The trunks are well some ortho-quartzites and preserved, practically conglomerates rest intact of large dimensions, It contains abundant discordantly on the the only fossil specimens remains of petrified trunks 2 Sábalos stream Amotape, Tahuin massif. resulting from the corresponding to Black marl, massive layers of fossilization process of Araucariaceas. limestone and banded black petrification, product of shales, clays, siltstones and the replacement of organic sandstones with lava and matter by silica. sedimentary volcano rocks. Remains of fossil roots (charred), remains of A petrified trunk of Volcanic materials and petrified trunks. Fossil Araucariaceas well 3 Cochurco stream sedimentary limestones invertebrates, present as preserved, in a significant and shales. internal and vertical position. external moulds. Remains of fossil invertebrates: Pelecypods, Geological deformations Inoceramus and Ammonites; Invertebrate marine fauna 4 Chirimoyo stream (folds) in sedimentary rocks and microfossils: planktonic is very frequent. represented by clay. and benthic foraminifera, calcareous nanofossils and Palinomorphs. Petrified (carbonized) trunks, in which the cellulose of the trees was Geological deformations, Petrified trunks well transformed into fold (anticline) in preserved. Invertebrate anthracite due to the loss 5 El Limón stream volcano-sedimentary rocks. fossils: foraminifera and of methane, water and Calcareous rocks calcareous nanofossils. carbon dioxide. (Coquina type). This geosite has a potential area to recreation (crystal clear lagoon). It shows stratifications by Fossil invertebrates: a the alternative deposit of phylum of molluscs, bivalves 6 El Guineo stream Pelecypod prints. sediments of di erent and ammonites and composition. petrified trunks. Fossil invertebrates: a Vegetable fossil remains, Volcano-sedimentary rocks, 7 Gringo Beach phylum of molluscs, from fossilization limestones, shales and clays. bivalves and ammonites. processes (carbonization). Limestone outcrop associated with a core of Ammonite concretions. A unique geosite: can be Ammonites. Shales, marls Molluscs, foraminifera and 8 Las Concreciones stream shown calcareous and thin layers of clays. The calcareous nanofossils and concretions. limestones inside have ostracods. pyrite. Remains of allochthonous Little diversity of petrified 9 Las Palmas stream Volcano-sedimentary rocks. petrified trunks. trunks. Geological deformations, Appears a few remains of Fossilization processes 10 Quemazón stream folding and thrust in petrified (charred) trunks. (carbonization). limestone rocks. Petrified trunk in Volcano-clastic rocks, with volcano-clastic rocks with Petrified trunks 11 Tunima stream levels containing a diameter smaller than well preserved. petrified trunks. found in Sábalos and Chocurco streams. Geographical reference whose cause has an altitude of 200 m.a.s.l, is the water Appears remains of Allochthonous 12 Puyango River course axis of importance for the petrified trunks and petrified trunks. ENE-WSW direction fossil invertebrates. according to the structural limits of the sector. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 11 of 24 Table 2. Cont. N LIGs Geological Aspects Paleontological Aspects Observations Allochthonous 13 Puyango, Alamor trail None. None. petrified trunks. Volcano-sedimentary Vegetable fossil remains The only geosite with a sediments reddish color due (fossilized leaf) by petrified leaf specimen in 14 El Tigre stream to the presence of fossilization processes the fossilization process iron oxides. (carbonization). (carbonization). Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 24 Geological deformations Metamorphic deformations. Geosite without 15 La Libertad fold due to Anticline fold. paleontological remains. compressive stresses. paleontological Appears deposits of visible Sedimentary rocks material of sedimentary information. Recreational tourist place 16 Playón Las Pailas carbonated, with remains of rocks along the river bed in for organized activities. invertebrates. the dry season. Some of the LIGs mentioned in Table 2 belong to the province of El Oro, such as the streams Exists geological Petrified trunks, fossils. information (samples of Recreation area, location Sábalos, Las Palmas, El Tigre, El Guineo, El Gringo, Quemazón and in the province of Loja are the El 17 PPF Interpretation left Disclosure area. rocks and maps of the main gorges, Chirimoyo, Cochurco, El Limón, Las Concreciones and Tunima (Figure 5). In the Cochurco, El calcareous concretions). paleontological information. Chirimoyo and Las Concreciones streams, remains of mollusk shell molds such as pelecypods and ammonites have been found in the limestones [26]. (b) (a) (d) (c) Figure 5. Streams of the province of El Oro (a) Sábalos, (b) Cochurco, (c) Las Palmas and (d) Figure 5. Streams of the province of El Oro (a) Sábalos, (b) Cochurco, (c) Las Palmas and (d) Las Las Concreciones. Concreciones. Moreover, a stratigraphic column of the Las Concreciones stream is shown (Figure 6) as a result Moreover, a stratigraphic column of the Las Concreciones stream is shown (Figure 6) as a result of the scientific research carried out in. The stream adopted that name because at the beginning of the scientific research carried out in. The stream adopted that name because at the beginning of of the stream, precisely upstream, there are concretions of limestone rolled from the upper part, the stream, precisely upstream, there are concretions of limestone rolled from the upper part, whose outcrop is made of sedimentary material. On the shales, limestones, marls and thin layers of clay are observed. Limestone concretions of 0.80 m in diameter are observed in the rock with a light gray hue. The limestones are crystalline with pyrite as a mineral. In addition, the concretion of two Ammonite molds lie, and a large limestone outcrop approximately 7 m thick stands out at the end of the station [27]. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 12 of 24 whose outcrop is made of sedimentary material. On the shales, limestones, marls and thin layers of clay are observed. Limestone concretions of 0.80 m in diameter are observed in the rock with a light gray hue. The limestones are crystalline with pyrite as a mineral. In addition, the concretion of two Ammonite molds lie, and a large limestone outcrop approximately 7 m thick stands out at the end of the station [27]. Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 13 of 24 Figure 6. Stratigraphic Column of the Las Concreciones stream. Modified from [29]. Figure 6. Stratigraphic Column of the Las Concreciones stream. Modified from [29]. The fossil invertebrates are marine and belong to the pelecypods and cephalopod classes of The fossil invertebrates are marine and belong to the pelecypods and cephalopod classes of mollusks (Figure 7). The cephalopod class is represented by ammonoids represented by the internal mollusks (Figure 7). The cephalopod class is represented by ammonoids represented by the internal and and external molds as well as petrified shells in the Cochurco, El Chirimoyo, El Limón, Las external molds as well as petrified shells in the Cochurco, El Chirimoyo, El Limón, Las Concreciones, Concreciones, and El Guineo streams. The internal molds of mollusks with Nucula spp, Inoceramus and El Guineo streams. The internal molds of mollusks with Nucula spp, Inoceramus concentricus, Astarte concentricus, Astarte spp and Heterodontido (See supplementary Figures S1, S2, S3, S4) [26]. spp and Heterodontido (See Supplementary Figures S1–S4) [26]. Figure 7. Macro-fossils in the province of Loja: (a) Pelecipodo heterodontido, (b) Ostrea sp., (c) Astarte sp., (d) Peltoceras sp., (e) Fragment of return of Ammonitido and (f) Schoenbachia sp. Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 13 of 24 Figure 6. Stratigraphic Column of the Las Concreciones stream. Modified from [29]. The fossil invertebrates are marine and belong to the pelecypods and cephalopod classes of mollusks (Figure 7). The cephalopod class is represented by ammonoids represented by the internal and external molds as well as petrified shells in the Cochurco, El Chirimoyo, El Limón, Las Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 13 of 24 Concreciones, and El Guineo streams. The internal molds of mollusks with Nucula spp, Inoceramus concentricus, Astarte spp and Heterodontido (See supplementary Figures S1, S2, S3, S4) [26]. Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 16 of 24 Figure 7. Macro-fossils in the province of Loja: (a) Pelecipodo heterodontido, (b) Ostrea sp., (c) Astarte Figure 7. Macro-fossils in the province of Loja: (a) Pelecipodo heterodontido, (b) Ostrea sp., (c) Astarte sp., The town is located at the entrance to the forest sp., (d) Peltoceras sp., (e) Fragment of return of Ammonitido and (f) Schoenbachia sp. (d) Peltoceras sp., (e) Fragment of return of Ammonitido and (f) Schoenbachia sp. tourist complex that belongs to the province of El Population density Oro, Las Lajas canton. It has an economically 4.2. Evaluation (potential aggression) active population of approximately 200 people, The results of phase ii with the scientific, didactic and touristic interests are presented according mostly farmers [26]. to the IELIG methodology with its justification in Table 3. To obtain the value of each item of interest, Equations (1)–(3) were used. Results reveal that To obtain the value of each item of interest, Equations (1)–(3) were used. Results reveal that the the Puyango Petrified Forest presents a “Very high” and “High” global degree of interest in the Puyango Petrified Forest presents a “Very high” and “High” global degree of interest in the Scientific Scientific (Si), Didactic (Di) and Touristic (Ti) aspects. Although some of them have a “Middle” public (Si), Didactic (Di) and Touristic (Ti) aspects. Although some of them have a “Middle” public interest interest (Figure 8), the reason is that the lack of strategies that promote the geodiversity of the area (Figure 8), the reason is that the lack of strategies that promote the geodiversity of the area through through geotourism. geotourism. Figure 8. Assessment of the degree of geological interest of the LIGs in the Puyango Petrified Forest Figure 8. Assessment of the degree of geological interest of the LIGs in the Puyango Petrified Forest according to IELIG. according to IELIG. The results of the applied evaluation of the IELIG methodology are represented in Table 4, noting that there are four LIGs with Geological Interest (IG) “Very High”, nine of interest “High” and four “Medium”, reflecting the great relevance of the Puyango Petrified Forest. The Global Protection Priority (PPG) values are also shown, finding most of the LIGs with the rating of “Medium-low”. Table 4. Quantitative assessment of parameters Scientific interest (Si), Didactic interest (Di), Touristic interest (Ti), Total Average Weight (Taw), Degree of geological interest (GI), Susceptibility of Degradation (SD), Scientific Protection Priority (SPP), Didactic Protection Priority (DPP), Touristic Protection Priority (TPP), Protection Priority (PP) and Global Protection Priority (PPG), according to the IELIG methodology. N° LIGs Si Di Ti Taw GI SD SPP DPP TPP PP PPG PPF Touristic Very 1 380 275 230 295 50 45.13 23.63 16.53 27.20 High trail High Sábalos Very Medium- 2 360 250 285 298 4.50 3.65 1.76 2.28 2.50 stream High low Cochurco Medium- 3 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 stream low Chirimoyo Medium- 4 330 215 225 257 High 18 12.25 5.20 5.69 7.41 stream low Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 14 of 24 Table 3. Description of the main indicators evaluated by the IELIG methodology. Value Indicators/Parameters Description The Puyango Petrified Forest (PPF) is a source of knowledge and well-being and it is the unique place with the best paleontological exposure in Ecuador. The area shows a sequence of Representativeness volcano-sediment from the Cretaceous age (Albian-Middle). A collection of petrified trunks, fossilized leaves of common gymnosperms and remains of mollusk shell molds of the Southern Cretaceous have been found in PPF deposits. PPF is a site of geological interest and a good example of a paleontological deposit, Prototype location where specimens of petrified trunks and character other allochthonous from Aptian-Middle and Jurassic-Cretaceous are found in situ. There are several works published in national and international journals performed by geoscientists and theses Degree of scientific carried out by students and professionals knowledge of the place on geological, paleontological, archaeological, botanical, cultural, economic and tourism topics. PPF presents a regular state of conservation. Some deteriorated areas prevent the observation of geological State of conservation characteristics (landslides). Some information panels are partially deteriorated. Scientific value The observation of several silicified trunks of Araucariaceas and Metapodocarpoxylon specimens, marine invertebrate fossils of the phylum Mollusca of the pelecypods class and cephalopod (ammonoids) possible. The fossilized flora corresponds Observation conditions to the subphylum of the mid-Mesozoic gymnosperms of the Zamites, Dioonites, Nilssonia, Otozamites, Podozamites, Carpites, and other genera. It is also a dry-tropical forest ecosystem that preserves species (fauna and flora) existing today. The petrified trunks of Puyango represent one of the largest collections of petrified Rarity wood in Ecuador and probably in the world. The site has unique characteristics from the Cretaceous Period. The paleontological aspect stands out as the main geological interest, followed by the stratigraphic, sedimentological, Geological diversity structural and geological history. Secondary features are the historical/archaeological, biodiversity, cultural and landscape. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 15 of 24 Table 3. Cont. Value Indicators/Parameters Description Educational visits and excursions from schools, colleges, and universities take Didactic content place considering the protection of the geological-paleontological heritage of the place. It lacks nearby accommodations and restaurants for tourist groups, but it has Logistics infrastructure an interpretation and information left for tourists. Using a national highway there is the access Guayaquil-Machala-Arenillas-Puyango with a 276 km route. From Huaquillas (border with Peru), there are 62 km. Accessibility Another access road goes from Loja-Veracruz- Catacocha’s city through a state highgway and then El Empalme-Celica-Alamor-Puyango with a Educational potential distance of 213 km [26]. and touristic use Association with other Numerous archaeological remains elements of the natural (petroglyphs) found in di erent parts of and/or cultural heritage the Puyango canton. Landscape, river course, remains of plant Magnificence or beauty fossils and invertebrates as evidence of ancient times. Informative Limited and without a tourist information content/Informative use department. detected Potential to carry out It has touristic trails, fossil deposits touristic and recreational and streams. activities Proximity to recreational There is a camping area less than 500 m areas (immediate from the forest. potential demand) The most common economic activities are Socioeconomic the short cycle crops sowing and co ee, environment cattle and pig raising. LIG size Area of 2.6 ha. with 17 LIGs. A paleontological site of great value, with Vulnerability to plunder numerous specimens and easy plunder. Fragility Possible landslides, flooding of rivers, Natural threats weakening of the soil and climatic variations due to severe droughts. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 16 of 24 Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 17 of 24 Table 3. Cont. El Limón Medium- Value Indicators/Parameters Description 5 335 215 260 270 High 0 0 0 0 0 stream low Proximity to anthropic El Guineo Medium- Place not threatened. 6 185 150 175 170 High 0 0 0 0 0 activities (infrastructure) stream low Interest for mining No mining interest in the area. Medium- 7 Gringo Beach 240 165 175 193 High 9.75 3.15 1.66 1.87 2.27 low Cultural Heritage, Ordinance for the Las Declaration of the Bi-provincial Protected Medium- Site protection regime 8 Concreciones 270 175 255 233 High 5.63 2.56 1.08 2.29 1.91 Area, in the Category of Ecological low stream Conservation Area. Las Palmas Medium- 9 110 80Physical 145 or 11indir 2 Med ect ium 9 0.68 0.36 1.18 0.70 Protected area with access to tourists. stream low protection Vulnerability due to Quemazón Medium- anthropogenic threats 10 305 170 210 228 High 0 0 0 0 0 Accessibility It is directly accessible through unpaved stream low (potential assault) and passable track for tourism. Tunima Medium- 11 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 stream Location in restricted access areas low Place ownership regime declared as natural heritage. Puyango Medium- 12 110 90 140 113 Medium 82.50 6.24 4.18 10.11 6.62 River course low The town is located at the entrance to the Puyango- Medium- forest tourist complex that belongs to the 13 110 90 140 113 Medium 82.50 6.24 4.18 10.11 6.62 Alamor trail low Population density province of El Oro, Las Lajas canton. El Tigre Medium- (potential aggression) It has an economically active population 14 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 stream of approximately 200 people, mostly low farmers [26]. La Libertad Medium- 15 110 80 145 112 Medium 9 0.68 0.36 1.18 0.70 fold low Playón Las Medium- 16 240 165 175 193 High 9.75 3.15 1.66 1.87 2.27 The results of the applied evaluation of the IELIG methodology are represented in Table 4, noting Pailas low that there are four LIGs with Geological Interest (IG) “Very High”, nine of interest “High” and four PPF Very “Medium”, reflecting the great relevance of the Puyango Petrified Forest. The Global Protection Priority 17 Interpretation 380 275 230 295 50 45.13 23.63 16.53 27.20 High High Center (PPG) values are also shown, finding most of the LIGs with the rating of “Medium-low”. The fossilized trunks resulted from the fossilization process, especially petrification by replacing The fossilized trunks resulted from the fossilization process, especially petrification by replacing organic matter such as cellulose and limenine with silica [33,35]. The paleontological importance organic matter such as cellulose and limenine with silica [33,35]. The paleontological importance with with the highest concentration of logs has been found in the old Puyango-Alamor highway and El the highest concentration of logs has been found in the old Puyango-Alamor highway and El Chirimoyo, El Limón, and Cochurco streams, where specimens of logs of up to 26 m long by 2.2 m in Chirimoyo, El Limón, and Cochurco streams, where specimens of logs of up to 26 m long by 2.2 m in diameter have been located (Figure 9). diameter have been located (Figure 9). (b) (c) (a) Figure 9. (a,b) Logs petrified with silica. (c) Giant petrified trunk. Figure 9. (a,b) Logs petrified with silica. (c) Giant petrified trunk. From the point of view of the conservation of LIG, it is necessary to determine the susceptibility of degradation. This analysis is performed through the fragility and natural threats components. Hence, mitigation actions can be taken to reduce as far as possible the vulnerability of the geosite and the damage caused by an event and anthropic threats identified in the sector. The data obtained as a result of the implementation of Equations (6)–(10) were presented in Table 4. With this values, Protection priorities “Medium-low” were identified for each of the protection priority parameters Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 17 of 24 Table 4. Quantitative assessment of parameters Scientific interest (Si), Didactic interest (Di), Touristic interest (Ti), Total Average Weight (Taw), Degree of geological interest (GI), Susceptibility of Degradation (SD), Scientific Protection Priority (SPP), Didactic Protection Priority (DPP), Touristic Protection Priority (TPP), Protection Priority (PP) and Global Protection Priority (PPG), according to the IELIG methodology. N LIGs Si Di Ti Taw GI SD SPP DPP TPP PP PPG PPF Touristic 1 380 275 230 295 Very High 50 45.13 23.63 16.53 27.20 High trail 2 Sábalos stream 360 250 285 298 Very High 4.50 3.65 1.76 2.28 2.50 Medium-low Cochurco 3 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 Medium-low stream Chirimoyo 4 330 215 225 257 High 18 12.25 5.20 5.69 7.41 Medium-low stream El Limón 5 335 215 260 270 High 0 0 0 0 0 Medium-low stream El Guineo 6 185 150 175 170 High 0 0 0 0 0 Medium-low stream 7 Gringo Beach 240 165 175 193 High 9.75 3.15 1.66 1.87 2.27 Medium-low Las 8 Concreciones 270 175 255 233 High 5.63 2.56 1.08 2.29 1.91 Medium-low stream Las Palmas 9 110 80 145 112 Medium 9 0.68 0.36 1.18 0.70 Medium-low stream Quemazón 10 305 170 210 228 High 0 0 0 0 0 Medium-low stream 11 Tunima stream 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 Medium-low Puyango River 12 110 90 140 113 Medium 82.50 6.24 4.18 10.11 6.62 Medium-low course Puyango-Alamor 13 110 90 140 113 Medium 82.50 6.24 4.18 10.11 6.62 Medium-low trail 14 El Tigre stream 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 Medium-low La Libertad 15 110 80 145 112 Medium 9 0.68 0.36 1.18 0.70 Medium-low fold Playón Las 16 240 165 175 193 High 9.75 3.15 1.66 1.87 2.27 Medium-low Pailas PPF 17 Interpretation 380 275 230 295 Very High 50 45.13 23.63 16.53 27.20 High Center From the point of view of the conservation of LIG, it is necessary to determine the susceptibility of degradation. This analysis is performed through the fragility and natural threats components. Hence, mitigation actions can be taken to reduce as far as possible the vulnerability of the geosite and the damage caused by an event and anthropic threats identified in the sector. The data obtained as a result of the implementation of Equations (6)–(10) were presented in Table 4. With this values, Protection priorities “Medium-low” were identified for each of the protection priority parameters SPP, DPP, TPP and PP, which depend on the value calculated in the LIG Degradation Susceptibility (SD), this parameter is calculated independently of the others. The Figure 10 shows the sections of SPP, DPP and TPP with a global Protection Priority (PP) “Medium-low”, except for two LIGs with a PP “High”. Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 18 of 24 SPP, DPP, TPP and PP, which depend on the value calculated in the LIG Degradation Susceptibility (SD), this parameter is calculated independently of the others. The Figure 10 shows the sections of SPP, DPP and TPP with a global Protection Priority (PP) “Medium-low”, except for two LIGs with a Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 18 of 24 PP “High”. Figure 10. Assessment of the Protection Priority of the LIGs. Figure 10. Assessment of the Protection Priority of the LIGs. Additionally, all 17 LIGs which strengthen the entire system of geological-paleontological heritage Additionally, all 17 LIGs which strengthen the entire system of geological-paleontological in this sector are marked in the PPF. With the application of the Scientific, Didactic, Tourist and Popular heritage in this sector are marked in the PPF. With the application of the Scientific, Didactic, Tourist Interest with Accessibility, Sensitivity and Conservation Status methodology (SDTPI-ASC), the authors and Popular Interest with Accessibility, Sensitivity and Conservation Status methodology (SDTPI- identified the di erent types of interest: Scientific (Si), Didactic (Di), Tourist (Ti) and Popularization ASC), the authors identified the different types of interest: Scientific (Si), Didactic (Di), Tourist (Ti) (Pi). The SDTPI-ASC was supported by the criteria of experts Nelson Jiménez, Jorge Marcos and Irina and Popularization (Pi). The SDTPI-ASC was supported by the criteria of experts Nelson Jiménez, Xomchuk, based on [26]; Table 5 illustrates the SDTPI-ASC methodology. Jorge Marcos and Irina Xomchuk, based on [26]; Table 5 illustrates the SDTPI-ASC methodology. Table 5. Referential assessment of the LIGs by the SDTPI-ASC methodology evaluated by experts in Table 5. Referential assessment of the LIGs by the SDTPI-ASC methodology evaluated by experts in the Puyango Petrified Forest. It has a type of interest (3). the Puyango Petrified Forest. It has a type of interest (✓). Type of Interest UTM Conservation Accessibility Sensitivity N LIGs UTM Type of interest Conservation Coordinates Status N° LIGs Si Di Ti Pi Accessibility Sensitivity Coordinates Si Di Ti Pi Status PPF Tourist 601735E, 601735E, 1 3 3 3 3 Good Average Good 1 PPF Toutrail rist trail 9560324S Good Average Good ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 9560324S 602734E, 2 Sábalos stream 602734E, 3 3 3 3 Good Average Good 9570326S 2 Sábalos stream ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ Good Average Good 9570326S Cochurco 606966E, 3 3 3 3 3 Good Poor Good Cochurco 606966E, stream 9572143S 3 ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ Good Poor Good stream 9572143S Chirimoyo 603047E, Below 4 3 3 3 Poor Good Chirimoyo 603047E, Below stream 9563869S average 4 ✓ ✓ ✓ Poor Good stream 9563869S average El Limón 606437E, Below Below 5 3 3 3 3 Poor 606437E, Below stream 9571676S average average 5 El Limón stream ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ Poor Below average 9571676S average El Guineo 598773E, Below Below 6 3 3 Poor El Guineo 598773E, Below stream 9567082S average average 6 Poor Below average ✓ ✓ stream 9567082S average 600022E, Below 7 Gringo Beach 3 3 3 Poor Good 600022E, Below 9573244S average 7 Gringo Beach ✓ ✓ ✓ Poor Good 9573244S average Las 602810E, Below 8 Concreciones 3 3 Poor Poor 9570930S average stream Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 19 of 24 Table 5. Cont. Type of Interest UTM Conservation Accessibility Sensitivity N LIGs Coordinates Status Si Di Ti Pi Las Palmas 600442E, Below 9 3 3 3 Poor Good stream 9571602S average Quemazón 603298E, Below 10 3 Good Poor stream 9570534S average 612035E, Below 11 Tunima stream 3 Poor Good 9570322S average Puyango River 601926E, Below 12 3 3 Regular Poor course 9570859S average Puyango-Alamor 602305E, Below 13 3 3 Good Poor trail 9567823S average 605566E, Below 14 El Tigre stream 3 3 Good Average 9571653S average La Libertad 600021E, Below Below Below 15 3 3 fold 9573243S average average average Playón Las 606828E, Below 16 3 3 Good Average Pailas 9571865S average PPF 601354E Below Below 17 Interpretation 3 3 3 Good 9568864S average average Center 4.3. Strategies The results obtained through a SWOT analysis, which required extensive geological-paleontological fieldwork with experts and people from the community, are presented in Table 6. The authors took the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into account to obtain strategies in terms of sustainable geotourism. Table 6. Matrix of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) of the Puyango Petrified Forest. Strengths Weaknesses S . Puyango is the unique petrified forest of W Lack of “social awareness” Cretaceous-Aptian age in the necessary in a country and it has international Internal environment geological-paleontological and relevance. cultural heritage. S It has an outstanding scientific W Lack of infrastructure and interest due to the exceptional tourist care services (emergency type of fossilization of the ward, restaurants, and lodgings). petrified trunks. W Lack of a bilingual tourist External environment S It was declared the Ecuadorian information center that provides a Cultural Heritage Treasure. scientific and relevant information S The unique forest that W Lack of internet access and combines petrified and natural media communications. trees. It is the habitat of 65 species of birds and other animals. Opportunities Strategy: Strategy: Strengths + Opportunities Weaknesses + Opportunities Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 20 of 24 Table 6. Cont. S O Complement studies to 1. 1. generate a database of scientific W O Participatory Geopark 1. 1. information on paleontological proposal that integrates resources. geodiversity, biodiversity, territory O Geopark Project proposal under development by S O Develop strategies for the and people. 2. 2. government entities and universities. sustainable management of W O Promote Social 2. 2. O Protection and restoration of LIGs through cultural and natural resources: Management programs (training various strategies with national and international conservation, research, and and awareness) that involve rural organizations. development for the proposal of families in the management of O Geotourism development open to improvement. the Puyango Geopark project. resources. O Declare PPF as a Biosphere Reserve (BR) in the S O Undertake conservation W O Promote the management 3. 3. 4. 4. dry forest of southern Ecuador. It is a strategic and cleaning work on fossil of information, production and opportunity. outcrops, protection of specimens popularization of knowledge and in situ, an adaptation of trails and tourism promotion at national and placement of information panels. international level, through ICTs. Threats Strategy: Strategy: Strength + Threats Weaknesses + Threats W T Promote sustainable 1. 1. tourism and mitigation of local anthropogenic threats. W T To plan and promote the 2. 2. T The burning of vegetation to obtain new land for reforestation in selected areas planting. through a pilot program, all T Deforestation and overgrazing that degrades the together with farm owners within ecosystem. the forest has protected area to T Collection of samples without approval from establish a mining-environmental Authorities. S T Encourage the development order. 2. 4. T Demand from the neighboring country Peru for W T Find private investors for of good bilateral relations with the 4. 3. 3. the pollution of the Puyango River due to mining neighboring country Peru. This the construction of a tourist e ects outside the PPF [36]. strategy stabilizes the intra-border accommodation and recreation T Possible landslides, river floods and climatic situation and encourages Peruvian center. variations due to severe droughts. tourism to the PPF area. W T Build a permanent 4. 4. S T T . Recovery of the Information Center and 3. 3. 4 paleontological deposit of fossil administrative oces, according outcrops of trees and marine to the regulations to certify the invertebrates from the PPF and area as an eco-touristic site. nearby areas such as the Piedmont of the Tumbesina eco-region (Ecuador-Peru). S T Legal regulations with 4. 3. permanent control on all activities within the forest, such as trail management, conservation, sta performance, tour operators, transportation income, agricultural production, etc. 5. Discussion The results obtained based on the IELIG’s methodology provided data for both a quantitative and qualitative analysis, where the experts in geological, paleontological and archaeological sciences highlighted the forest’s value as a unique example of the Cretaceous Period at a national level, which requires the recovery and preservation of its importance of the PPF as an Ecuadorian unique example of the Cretaceous Period, which requires the recovery and conservation of its heritage for sustainable development [37]. Additionally, the analysis suggested that the geotourism alternative supports the “Puyango” Geopark project. Experts have considered a referential assessment from 17 LIGs taken in the forest which on average are described as “below average” accessibility, “poor” sensibility and a “below average” conservations state that supports the usage of strategies to enhance the development of this area destinated for the geotourism as a pedagogical tool; it also promotes the restitution and improvement of geological and paleontological informative panels. Thus, it is essential to incorporate a web page to strengthen and increase the influx of tourists in the area, where the site is scientific and cultural information is disseminated nationally and internationally and to keep a record of annual visits. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 21 of 24 The methodological study allows considering the PPF as a Geological Interest Place (LIG, acronym in Spanish) for the geological, paleontological, historical and cultural environment that surrounds it. The results evidenced to “Very high” geological interest in the LIGs “PPF Touristic trail”, “Sábalos stream”, “El Limón stream” and “PPF Interpretation Center”; “High” geological interest in “Cochurco stream”, “Chirimoyo stream”, “El Guineo stream”, “Gringo Beach”, “Las Concreciones stream”, “Quemazón stream”, “Tunima stream”, “El Tigre stream” and “Playón Las Pailas” highlighting the paleontology of the place. The LIG Protection Priority (PP) scores classified as “Medium-low” in most LIGs; this is because the Puyango Petrified Forest (PPF) is a protected natural reserve of public administration, which gives it the competence and authority to management and protection policies. The LIGs to “PPF Touristic trail” and “PPF Interpretation Center” have a “High” rating of Protection Priority since they have a high influx of national and international visitors [17]. In the assessment, vulnerability to plunder also responded to the anthropic threat caused directly by collectors as the paleontological appeal is an intrinsic characteristic of the geosite. Therefore, knowing its PP fosters the adoption of measures for the conservation of the LIG [38,39]. Despite having high values in the geological-paleontological interest, it is necessary to monitor PPF, implement the proposed strategies and analyze its tourist development since it has 13,000 visitors per year, 70% are domestic tourists and 30% foreign [40]. Furthermore, the present study identifies shortcomings in terms of the infrastructure, as the place demands services for tourists such as accommodation, restaurants, a health care center and internet access and media communication. Nevertheless, PPF, with just 2659 hectares, has great potential compared to other forests with a large concentration of petrified wood such as the Jaramillo Petrified Forest National Park in Santa Cruz-Argentina of the Middle-Upper Jurassic Period [41]. The latter has 15,000 hectares and an average of 4800 tourists a year. Another case is the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, United States, of the Triassic Period, that includes more than 20,000 ha and around 5800 visitors per year [42,43]. Therefore, the results obtained in this study were satisfactory and provided necessary information to evaluate possible threats that a ect the forest and its heritage in a natural environment and to boost the execution and implementation of scientific and territorial ordering in projects according to the population’s capacity and the reality of the site [44,45]. 6. Conclusions The assessment of the methodology of the Spanish Inventory of Places of Geological Interest (IELIG, acronym in Spanish) carried out on seventeen di erent stations in the Puyango Petrified Forest, proved that it is a Place of Geological Interest (LIG, acronym in Spanish). Thus, PPF is in the categories of Very high and High interest in the scientific, tourist and educational sectors, for its great potential and geological relevance to promote geotouristic development. The geodiversity of the forest is the main strength of the area, since it is considered a geological-paleontological heritage site, for purposes of touristic interpretation. PPF is one of the few sites in the world where you can analyze the paleontological aspects of the prehistoric flora and relate it to the current plant landscape. These characteristics make PPF an icon of geotourism in the sector. Hence, the proposed methodology SDTPI-ASC assessed the 17 LIGs in a preliminary stage and gave PPF a great value as a place of geological-paleontological heritage. Moreover, this analysis is a significant contribution to academia and its application facilitates the recognition of LIGs. Thus, the geopark project generates an alternative for the scientific, cultural and economic development of the population through a territorial order that addresses the 2030 Agenda and contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The importance of anthropogenic threats (deforestation, overgrazing, sample collection, burning of vegetation for new land and planting) and natural threats (landslides, river floods, severe droughts) faced by the geosites urge the protection and conservation of the LIGs. Therefore, strategies will substantially improve environmental, geological and paleontological conservation, as well as community participation and dissemination in the short and long term. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 22 of 24 Finally, the development of bilateral relations with the neighboring country Peru will stabilize the intra-border situation and encourage Peruvian tourism to the PPF area. In addition, it will promote relations with international organizations interested in supporting the proposal for the sustainable conservation and resource management of the Puyango geopark project. Supplementary Materials: The following are available online at http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/16/6579/s1, in the book “PUYANGO: ENTRE PASADO Y PRESENTE” (“PUYANGO: BETWEEN PAST AND PRESENT”) of the Valuation Study of the Petrified Forest of Puyango, Loja Province, Ecuador. First edition, Guayaquil-Ecuador, 2004, ISBN: 9978-310-07 [26], Figure S1: Macrofossils, Figure S2: Macrofossils, Figure S3: Microfossils, Figure S4: Microfossils. Author Contributions: Conceptualization, P.C.-M., F.M.-C. and N.J.-O.; methodology, F.M.-C., G.H.-N., N.J.-O. and P.C.-M.; software, G.H.-N.; validation, P.C.-M., N.J.-O. and F.M.-C.; formal analysis, F.M.-C., G.H.-N., N.J.-O. and P.C.-M.; investigation, N.J.-O., F.M.-C. and G.H.-N.; resources, F.M.-C., G.H.-N., N.J.-O. and P.C.-M.; data curation, N.J.-O., G.H.-N. and F.M.-C.; writing—original draft preparation, N.J.-O. and G.H.-N.; writing—review and editing, P.C.-M., F.M.-C., N.J.-O. and G.H.-N.; visualization, F.M.-C., G.H.-N., N.J.-O. and P.C.-M.; supervision, F.M.-C. and N.J.-O.; project administration, N.J.-O and F.M.-C.; funding acquisition, N.J.-O. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript. Funding: This work was supported by ESPOL Research projects: “Estudio de Valoración y Diagnóstico de Paleontología, Botánica, Arqueología y Etnografía en Puyango, Celica y Paltas, Provincia de Loja” (Study of assessment and diagnosis of paleontology, botany, archaeology and ethnography in Puyango, Celica and Paltas, Loja province), “Propuesta de Geoparque Ruta del Oro y su incidencia en el desarrollo territorial” (“Ruta del Oro” Geopark proposal and its impact on territorial development) under grant nos CIPAT-02-2018 and “Registro del Patrimonio Geológico y Minero y su incidencia en la defensa y preservación de la geodiversidad en Ecuador” (Registry of Geological and Mining Heritage and its impact on the defense and preservation of geodiversity in Ecuador) under grant nos CIPAT-01-2018. Acknowledgments: The authors wish to acknowledge Ivan Romero and Josue Briones for their support and recommendations in the preparation of this research. 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Biotropica 2010, 42, 262. [CrossRef] 44. Herrera-Franco, G.; Carrión-Mero, P.; Alvarado, N.; Morante-Carballo, F.; Maldonado, A.; Caldevilla, P.; Briones-Bitar, J.; Berrezueta, E. Geosites and Georesources to Foster Geotourism in Communities: Case Study of the Santa Elena Peninsula Geopark Project in Ecuador. Sustainability 2020, 12, 4484. [CrossRef] 45. Štrba, L’.; Kršák, B.; Sidor, C. Some Comments to Geosite Assessment, Visitors, and Geotourism Sustainability. Sustainability 2018, 10, 2589. [CrossRef] © 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Sustainability Unpaywall

Puyango, Ecuador Petrified Forest, a Geological Heritage of the Cretaceous Albian-Middle, and Its Relevance for the Sustainable Development of Geotourism

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sustainability Article Puyango, Ecuador Petrified Forest, a Geological Heritage of the Cretaceous Albian-Middle, and Its Relevance for the Sustainable Development of Geotourism 1 , 2 , 3 , 1 , 4 , 4 Fernando Morante-Carballo * , Geanella Herrera-Narváez *, Nelson Jiménez-Orellana 1 , 4 and Paúl Carrión-Mero Centro de Investigación y Proyectos Aplicados a las Ciencias de la Tierra (CIPAT), ESPOL Polytechnic University, Campus Gustavo Galindo Km. 30.5 Vía Perimetral, 9015863 Guayaquil, Ecuador; pcarrion@espol.edu.ec Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Matemáticas (FCNM), ESPOL Polytechnic University, Campus Gustavo Galindo Km. 30.5 Vía Perimetral, 9015863 Guayaquil, Ecuador Geo-recursos y Aplicaciones GIGA, ESPOL Polytechnic University, Campus Gustavo Galindo Km. 30.5 Vía Perimetral, 9015863 Guayaquil, Ecuador Facultad de Ingeniería en Ciencias de la Tierra (FICT), ESPOL Polytechnic University, Campus Gustavo Galindo Km 30.5 Vía Perimetral, 9015863 Guayaquil, Ecuador; nmjimene@espol.edu.ec * Correspondence: fmorante@espol.edu.ec (F.M.-C.); geamiher@espol.edu.ec (G.H.-N); Tel.: +59-396-976-0276 (F.M.-C.) Received: 7 July 2020; Accepted: 6 August 2020; Published: 14 August 2020 Abstract: Geodiversity treaties have multiplied and given rise to geological heritage as a singular value of protection and preservation for territories. The Puyango Petrified Forest (PPF) is a recognized Ecuadorian reserve, which was declared a National Heritage Treasure. It has an area of 2659 hectares, and it is located in the south of Ecuador, between the provinces of El Oro and Loja. The petrified trunks and trees were buried by volcanic lava, dating from the Cretaceous Period, 96 to 112 million years ago. Thus, silicification and carbonization, two important fossilization events, have produced hundreds of samples of paleontological wealth in Puyango. The objective of this work is to methodologically assess the geodiversity of a fraction of the PPF by registering its geological heritage and value for its preservation and sustainable development. The methodology is based on: (i) Analysis of information on the territory used for tourist visits, as a pilot study area. Presentation of paleontological components and their main sections to enhance their geotouristics value; (ii) Assessment of the geological heritage for its geotourism categorization with a recognized scientific methodology and one proposed by the co-authors propose; and (iii) Analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) as a guide for protection and development strategies. Findings reveal the high geotourism potential for a Geopark Project in Puyango, since only 300 hectares are used for tourism and the remaining area is a virgin environment for research and improving knowledge of geodiversity and biodiversity. Keywords: petrified forest; sustainable development; geodiversity; biodiversity; Puyango; geopark 1. Introduction Geodiversity considers all the geological elements of the Earth’s crust, from the landscape to its internal structure that constitutes the various materials such as rocks, minerals and fossils. It is an inanimate part of nature, but at the same time significant to sustaining biodiversity, since the soil and subsoil generated by a series of geological processes are what sustain it, and what together are part of the natural beauty of a site; however, geodiversity has been downplayed by historically giving Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579; doi:10.3390/su12166579 www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 2 of 24 greater prominence to biodiversity [1]. Thus, the term geodiversity refers to the quality, spectacularity, and beauty of a site of an abiotic nature, which is why it deserves conservation [2]. The protection and conservation of geodiversity is an issue that until recently was not understood. However, this failure is being overcome thanks to the close link that exists between biodiversity and geodiversity, which can be achieved through proper management to preserve biocenosis and the biotope in an integral way [3,4]. Currently, the geological heritage is promoted and protected adequately towards the sustainable development of geotourism; this term emphasizes a form of tourism to natural areas that focuses explicitly on geology and landscape, promoting geosite tourism and the conservation of geodiversity for a better understanding of the earth sciences through appreciation and learning [5]. In geological terms, a geosite is defined by its scientific value that demonstrates the importance of the geological heritage of a specific area, which must be relevant and of importance to science [6]. This is accomplished through independent visits to geological features, such as geo-trails and viewpoints, guided tours, geo-activities, and the sponsorship of geosite visitor centres [7,8]. The term Geoheritage considers particular elements of geodiversity (petrological, geomorphological, structural, mineralogical, paleontological, stratigraphic, hydrogeological, pedological, among others) with a high scientific value [9]. Paleontological heritage of a geosite is the study of its scientific value through fossils, which are testimonies of life in the past, and which also reflect certain events in the geological history of Earth. Around them and the deposits in which they were found, numerous scientific features converge that can be considered objectively, allowing their value to be established; such as fossil types, relative age, state of conservation, among others. Therefore, paleontological heritage is part of the geological and natural heritage [10]. Geodiversity is evident that the fossils and deposits have meaning and provide information on the history of Life and Earth. Morevoer, the scientific component is relevant to place fossils and sites on a theoretical scale of paleontological value [11]. Fossil forests or petrified forests register a remarkable geological-paleontological heritage characterized by the wood of trees that has been buried under sediments and preserved by the absence of oxygen [12]. This type of fossilization is known as permineralization and emphasizes the replacement of the body’s molecules by minerals. In this case, petrified wood explains vegetal biodiversity of diverse historical times since it preserves its original structure to a microscopic level. There are more than 20 specimens of petrified forests worldwide and only 3 belong to America— the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona-United States, the Petrified Forest of Santa Cruz Natural Monument in Patagonia, Argentina, and the Puyango Petrified Forest in Ecuador. All these forests are remarkable for their age, surface and paleontological wealth [13]. In Ecuador, forests cover 42% of the country’s total area; half of the area is used for production [14]. Dry forests are of particular importance, since they have less biodiversity than rainforests, but they are the habitat of more than 130 species of birds. These forests are located in two di erent areas: (a) on the central Pacific coast, which corresponds to the provinces of Esmeraldas, Manabí, Santa Elena and Guayas; and (b) in the southern coast and western foothills of the Andes in El Oro and Loja that comprise the equatorial dry forest with a unique ecosystem in the world [15]. In the past, 35% of western Ecuador was covered by dry forest. However, 75% of the area has disappeared due to deforestation pressures and growth of the agricultural and livestock frontier. Furthermore, PPF is recognized for its heritage as a true paleontological jewel that contains a large number of petrified trees of approximately 100 million years old, where the largest collection of petrified wood in the world is located. One of its largest specimens is the Petrino with dimensions of 2 m in diameter and 15 m in length. Its magnificence is given by a large number of petrified trunks that open the door to family, educational, scientific, geological-paleontological and naturist tourism. PPF is a unique beauty in the region with remnants of trees such as trunks and petrified leaves of Mesozoic flora, and fossils of invertebrates such as bivalves, ammonites, echinoderms, among others. Furthermore, its biodiversity coexists protected by the great slopes and breaks of the area [16,17]. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 3 of 24 In this regard, this study aims to respond the question: Could we define PPF as a geological heritage and a driving force for geotourism for its spectacularity, good exposure, paleontology, biostratigraphy, and stratigraphic content? Hence, the objective is to methodologically assess the geodiversity of a fraction of PPF as a pilot project, register its outstanding components (geological heritage) and value it for the preservation and sustainable development of the entire forest. For these purposes, an assessment is carried out using the scientific method of the Spanish Inventory of Places of Geological Interest (IELIG, acronym in Spanish) [18]. Moreover, some research-level experiences are recorded to assess sites of geological interest that could be considered as geosites [19,20]. 2. Overview of the Study Area Puyango forest is in the southern region of Ecuador, located in the canton Las Lajas, province of El Oro and Puyango-Alamor, canton-parish of the province of Loja. The cantons are divided by the Puyango river, located 7 km from the border with Peru. The forest occupies an extension of 2658 hectares (Figure 1), and in 1971, it was discovered by the academic sta of the Huaquillas night school that named it “Petrified Forest of Puyango” [20]. In 1973, PPF was declared Cultural Heritage On 9th January 1987 through Ministerial Agreement No. 22, it was declared a protected forest and vegetation due to the e orts of El Oro Cultural Development Center and the Central Bank of Ecuador. Later, in March 1988, it was declared part of the Natural Heritage of Ecuador [21,22]. This region is mountainous, with heights between 360 and 500 m.a.s.l. The current flora and fauna represent a group of transitional forms between the Pacific lowlands and the Andean elevations [23]. The biodiversity of the area corresponds to a tropical dry forest, which is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world, and its species belong to the Tumbesino Center of endemism owned by Ecuador and Peru [8]. Due to the geomorphological conditions of the area, caused by tectonic events and modeled by the erosion of rivers, PPF presents a great potential for geotourism appeal in this area for the exposure of petrified logs, a product of the fossilization process [24,25]. Puyango Petrified Forest (PPF) is considered one of the few remnants of tropical dry forest in the southwest of the country, where steep slopes and streams such as El Guineo, Las Concreciones, El Chirimoyo, El Limón, Sábalos and Cochurco have preserved the endemic vegetation of its ecosystem and other areas of secondary forest in recovery. In fact, stratigraphic units reveal a fossil richness of invertebrates of the phylum Mollusca and microfossils of foraminifera and calcareous nanofossils [26]. Puyango is an open book of geological succession and paleontological information of high scientific value for society, since it is one of the most representative and relevant forests in South America. PPF has been compared to the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, United States—the largest in the world with more than 20,000 hectares. It has petrified tree trunks belonging to the Araucarioxylon arizonicum that are preserved from a conifer corresponding to the Late Triassic Period, already extinct in our times. Moreover, it has fern plant fossils, animals such as the Chinle frogs of the Chinle Geological Formation, and it is the habitat of a great variety of mammals, fauna, birds, reptiles, and amphibians in a desert environment [27]. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 4 of 24 Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 24 Figure 1. Study area of the Puyango Petrified Forest and its geosites in the provinces of El Oro and Loja. Modified from [28]. Figure 1. Study area of the Puyango Petrified Forest and its geosites in the provinces of El Oro and Loja. Modified from [28]. Before becoming a tropical dry forest, Puyango was a sea, which dried up and transformed into large hectares of forests and animals. Due to natural cataclysms, geological movements and time, Before becoming a tropical dry forest, Puyango was a sea, which dried up and transformed into the organisms buried underground arose on the surface forming a trace of the planet’s remote past large hectares of forests and animals. Due to natural cataclysms, geological movements and time, the and a transcendent number of ancient and representative fossils that correspond to marine organisms organisms buried underground arose on the surface forming a trace of the planet’s remote past and that currently oscillate between 60 and 120 million years [26]. In this regard, Puyango emerged under a transcendent number of ancient and representative fossils that correspond to marine organisms that coastal and terrestrial marine conditions in a relatively narrow basin caused by the continuous erosive currently oscillate between 60 and 120 million years [26]. In this regard, Puyango emerged under tectonism, deformation, displacement, and deposits of pyroclastic materials during the Cretaceous. coastal and terrestrial marine conditions in a relatively narrow basin caused by the continuous Before the Andes rose to the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago, gymnosperm forests originated erosive tectonism, deformation, displacement, and deposits of pyroclastic materials during the on a relatively flat area like the lithified sediments that currently lean in di erent directions due to Cretaceous. Before the Andes rose to the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago, gymnosperm folding and tectonism. During this period, the area had a warm temperature. However, with the forests originated on a relatively flat area like the lithified sediments that currently lean in different floods and volcanic activity east of the Andes, the forests were destroyed and deposits of buried directions due to folding and tectonism. During this period, the area had a warm temperature. trunk layers in alternating sequences of siltstones, sandstones, graywackes and conglomerates were However, with the floods and volcanic activity east of the Andes, the forests were destroyed and reestablished by erosion [29]. The Andes mountain range slowly submerged the forest, placing it deposits of buried trunk layers in alternating sequences of siltstones, sandstones, graywackes and south of its current position in a subtropical climate along with calcium carbonate deposits and the conglomerates were reestablished by erosion [29]. The Andes mountain range slowly submerged the presence of marine fossil invertebrates belonging to shallow water. The geological formation of the forest, placing it south of its current position in a subtropical climate along with calcium carbonate site is defined as a sequence of sedimentary rocks of the Late Cretaceous period formed by thin deposits and the presence of marine fossil invertebrates belonging to shallow water. The geological layers of calcareous black shales, crystalline, and massive black limestones, volcanic agglomerates, formation of the site is defined as a sequence of sedimentary rocks of the Late Cretaceous period gray-green siliceous shales, brown shales, and volcano-sedimentary shales (Figure 2). In this type formed by thin layers of calcareous black shales, crystalline, and massive black limestones, volcanic of Cretaceous (Albian-Middle) age materials, the petrified wood is found and in the upper part of agglomerates, gray-green siliceous shales, brown shales, and volcano-sedimentary shales (Figure 2). the Coquina volcanic material, brown calcareous clays with mollusks and ammonites. In addition, In this type of Cretaceous (Albian-Middle) age materials, the petrified wood is found and in the upper a decreasing sedimentary volcanic grain sequence, clayey sandstones, tobaceous silt with petrified part of the Coquina volcanic material, brown calcareous clays with mollusks and ammonites. In wood and reddish clay can be observed [30]. The trunks were dragged in an aqueous medium of addition, a decreasing sedimentary volcanic grain sequence, clayey sandstones, tobaceous silt with remains of pyroclastic materials and deposited together with the sediments in a marine environment petrified wood and reddish clay can be observed [30]. The trunks were dragged in an aqueous where they were covered by sediments as a result of the erosion of the Andes. Sediments are divided medium of remains of pyroclastic materials and deposited together with the sediments in a marine into four geological formations such as the Zapotillo, Cazaderos, Ciano, Ambín and Progreso. Marine environment where they were covered by sediments as a result of the erosion of the Andes. Sediments are divided into four geological formations such as the Zapotillo, Cazaderos, Ciano, Ambín and Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 24 Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 5 of 24 Progreso. Marine invertebrate fossils such as gastropods, ostracods, and bivalves, which are associated with microfossils of the order of the foraminifera and calcareous nanophosiles of the invertebrate fossils such as gastropods, ostracods, and bivalves, which are associated with microfossils Cretaceous (Middle Albian) age, are found in the layers of sedimentary materials [31]. The Puyango of the order of the foraminifera and calcareous nanophosiles of the Cretaceous (Middle Albian) age, river is the limit between the provinces of El Oro and Loja and represents a great geological fault in are found in the layers of sedimentary materials [31]. The Puyango river is the limit between the the East–West direction. It has caused the folding of rocks at the gorges of El Chirimoyo, Cochurco provinces of El Oro and Loja and represents a great geological fault in the East–West direction. It has and El Limón streams [32,33]. caused the folding of rocks at the gorges of El Chirimoyo, Cochurco and El Limón streams [32,33]. Figure 2. Geological map of the Las Lajas and Puyango cantons of the provinces of El Oro and Loja respectively. Modified from [28]. Figure 2. Geological map of the Las Lajas and Puyango cantons of the provinces of El Oro and Loja respectively. Modified from [28]. 3. Materials and Methods 3. Materials and Methods The proposed methodology for this study comprised three phases (Figure 3): (i) analysis of information from the pilot study area, the case of the Puyango Petrified Forest, scientific information The proposed methodology for this study comprised three phases (Figure 3): (i) analysis of regarding its geological interest, the presentation the paleontological components and their main information from the pilot study area, the case of the Puyango Petrified Forest, scientific information geotouristic sections; (ii) assessment of the heritage site, using the methodology of the Spanish regarding its geological interest, the presentation the paleontological components and their main Inventory of Places of Geological Interest (IELIG, acronym in Spanish) and another proposal by authors geotouristic sections; (ii) assessment of the heritage site, using the methodology of the Spanish to assess its geotouristics potential; and (iii) the results were confirmed with a Strengths, Weaknesses, Inventory of Places of Geological Interest (IELIG, acronym in Spanish) and another proposal by authors Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis, to assess the heritage site status, and propose sustainable to assess its geotouristics potential; and (iii) the results were confirmed with a Strengths, Weaknesses, development strategies in the SWOT matrix [34]. Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis, to assess the heritage site status, and propose sustainable development strategies in the SWOT matrix [34]. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 6 of 24 Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 6 of 24 Figure 3. Flowchart of the methodology used for research. Figure 3. Flowchart of the methodology used for research. 3.1. First Phase: Identification of the Pilot Area 3.1. First Phase: Identification of the Pilot Area In the first phase, the researchers realized a technical visit about the outstanding characteristics of In the first phase, the researchers realized a technical visit about the outstanding characteristics the studied forest, which was carried out with a tourist guide and some national tourists. The route of the studied forest, which was carried out with a tourist guide and some national tourists. The route of the place consists of six stations of great geological and paleontological interest, in addition to of the place consists of six stations of great geological and paleontological interest, in addition to the the collection of historical and scientific information carried out in the sector [26,29,30] through the collection of historical and scientific information carried out in the sector [26,29,30] through the configuration of a database in scientific publications, works outreach, project reporting and data configuration of a database in scientific publications, works outreach, project reporting and data collection through expert interviews as the basis for further evaluation. This route included the use of collection through expert interviews as the basis for further evaluation. This route included the use database in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to obtain a map of the tourist route recorded in the of database in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to obtain a map of the tourist route recorded in Puyango forest. the Puyango forest. Finally, this phase included the description geological, paleontological aspects and relevant Finally, this phase included the description geological, paleontological aspects and relevant observations of the geotouristics potential of seventeen possible geosites. We also presented its observations of the geotouristics potential of seventeen possible geosites. We also presented its paleontological components that give the forest an important scientific interest for geologists and paleontological components that give the forest an important scientific interest for geologists and paleontologists. Much of its evidence was recorded in fossils such as petrified wood samples and paleontologists. Much of its evidence was recorded in fossils such as petrified wood samples and remains of mollusc shell moulds that were found in some streams belonging to the provinces of El remains of mollusc shell moulds that were found in some streams belonging to the provinces of El Oro and Loja, giving great geotouristics interest to the forest. Besides that, a stratigraphic column Oro and Loja, giving great geotouristics interest to the forest. Besides that, a stratigraphic column belonging to the Las Concreciones stream was described, and finally, it showed pictures of marine belonging to the Las Concreciones stream was described, and finally, it showed pictures of marine fossil invertebrates of the classes of pelecypod and cephalopod molluscs. fossil invertebrates of the classes of pelecypod and cephalopod molluscs. 3.2. Second Phase: Quantitative and Qualitative Evaluation 3.2. Second Phase: Quantitative and Qualitative Evaluation Moreover, the applied methodology comprises two factors: (1) intrinsic value of the Site of Moreover, the applied methodology comprises two factors: (1) intrinsic value of the Site of Geological Interest (LIG, acronym in Spanish), highlighting the geological aspects, and (2) use-value Geological Interest (LIG, acronym in Spanish), highlighting the geological aspects, and (2) use-value of of the LIG. Therefore, with the collaboration of paleontologist Nelson Jiménez and archaeologist the LIG. Therefore, with the collaboration of paleontologist Nelson Jiménez and archaeologist Jorge Jorge Marcos, experts who evaluate the scientific, didactic and touristic premises value, surveys are Marcos, experts who evaluate the scientific, didactic and touristic premises value, surveys are collected. The experts assign weights to each premise of the methodology developed in [18] (Table 1), collected. The experts assign weights to each premise of the methodology developed in [18] (Table where the degrees of Scientific interest (Si), Didactic interest (Di) and Touristic interest (Ti) are obtained. 1), where the degrees of Scientific interest (Si), Didactic interest (Di) and Touristic interest (Ti) are The scores of each parameter vary from 0, 1, 2 and 4, where 0 is the lowest score and 4 the highest, obtained. The scores of each parameter vary from 0, 1, 2 and 4, where 0 is the lowest score and 4 the scores that are multiplied by the weight of the individual interests given in the methodology (Table 1). highest, scores that are multiplied by the weight of the individual interests given in the methodology (Table 1). Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 7 of 24 Table 1. Indicators and weights used for the quantitative assessment of Sites of Geological Interest (LIGs). Modified from [18]. IELIG Methodology Scientific Weight (Sw), Didactic Weight (Dw), Tourist Weight (Tv), Fragility Weight (Fw) and Vulnerability due to Anthropogenic Threats Weight (Vw) Weight Indicators/Parameters Punctuation Sw Dw Tw Fw Vw Representativeness 30 5 Prototype location character 10 5 Degree of scientific knowledge of the place 15 State of conservation 10 5 Observation conditions 10 5 5 Rarity 15 5 Geological diversity 10 10 Didactic content 20 Logistics infrastructure 15 5 Accessibility 15 10 Association with other elements of the natural 5 5 and/or cultural heritage Magnificence or beauty 5 20 0–4 Population density (potential aggression) 5 5 5 Proximity to recreational areas (immediate 5 5 potential demand) Informative content/Informative use detected 15 Potential to carry out touristic and recreational activities Socioeconomic environment 10 LIG size 15 40 Vulnerability to plunder 30 Natural threats 30 Proximity to anthropic activities (infrastructure) Interest for mining 15 Site protection regime 15 Physical or indirect protection 15 Accessibility (potential assault) 15 Place ownership regime 10 Total 100 100 100 100 100 Then, the total provides the value of Si, Di and Ti. If the LIG exceeds 266 points, it is considered a place of “Very high” interest. Hence, the scores between 134 and 266 will be of “High” interest, and those lower than 134 points will be considered to be of “Medium” interest. The following equations are defined for the value of each interest: n parameters Si = Puntuation  Scienti f ic weight (1) i=parameter n parameters Di = Puntuation  Didactic weight (2) i=parameter n parameters Ti = Puntuation  Tourist weight (3) i=parameter Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 8 of 24 Furthermore, a qualitative evaluation about conservation of the site is achieved, where the Susceptibility of Degradation (SD) of the site is evaluated based on the Fragility (F) and the vulnerability due to anthropogenic Threats (T). With the SD, researchers can obtain the Protection Priority (PP) for Si, Di, Ti of the LIG and rank the interests according to the PP value in its di erent vertices: scientific (SPP), didactic (DPP), touristic-recreation (TPP), and global (PP). Taking the threshold of the pilot project in the Iberian Cordillera [18] for a given value of the SD as reference, if the value is higher than 26, the PP degree “High” of the LIG. If the SD is equal to 26, the PP degree is “Medium”. The “Medium-high” and “Medium-low” PP will be around 8. To obtain the values of fragility (F) and threat (T) that allow prioritizing and monitoring of the conservation status, where it is susceptible to degradation, and to quantify the priorities SPP, DPP, TPP, and PP, the researchers used the following equations: n parameters F = Puntuation  Fragility weight (4) i=parameter n parameters T = Puntuation  Threat weight (5) i=parameter SD = ((F  T)  1/400) (6) 2 2 SPP = Si  SD  1/400 (7) 2 2 DPP = Di  SD  1/400 (8) 2 2 TPP = Ti  SD  1/400 (9) 2 2 [( ) ] PP = Si + Di + Ti /3  SD  1/400 (10) Moreover, the authors include a completed form of the proposed methodology that includes the Scientific, Didactic, Tourist and Popular Interest factors with Accessibility, Sensitivity and Conservation status (SDTPI-ASC), considering the 17 LIGs of relevant geological-paleontological importance. This approach strengthens the evaluated geological heritage. For this purpose, the interest categories are divided into Scientific interest (Si), Didactic interest (Di) and Touristic interest (Ti) and Popularization interest (Pi), with its sections on accessibility to the place, sensitivity to plunder and current conservation status, as a basis for future studies. 3.3. Third Phase: Strategies In this phase, based on expert judgment, the SWOT matrix configuration was done, with experiences from technical visits and studies in the Puyango Petrified Forest (BPP). This matrix allows establishing opportunities for geotourism development, identifying strengths, weaknesses and threats. The particular singularity of the territory in its geological and paleontological heritage has been highlighted, with a high interest for national and international geologists interested in investigating the geological record of the place, the scientific, educational and recreational use to strengthen the local economy. There is a high fossil content, pleated structures, sedimentary, volcanic, metamorphic rocks with a natural, integral and biodiverse perspective, with samples of petrified trunks, pelecypods, macrofossils and ammonites. In the analysis of experts, the limitations or problems of the geosites are also considered, to turn them into new strategies for local development. A SWOT analysis was carried out to assess the conservation status of the heritage site and to propose sustainable development strategies in a SWOT matrix [34], where the Puyango geopark project has great potential to promote the development of geotourism in the zone. Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 9 of 24 macrofossils and ammonites. In the analysis of experts, the limitations or problems of the geosites are also considered, to turn them into new strategies for local development. A SWOT analysis was carried out to assess the conservation status of the heritage site and to propose sustainable development strategies in a SWOT matrix [34], where the Puyango geopark Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 9 of 24 project has great potential to promote the development of geotourism in the zone. 4. Results 4. Results 4.1. Identification of the Pilot Area 4.1. Identification of the Pilot Area The identification of the pilot area includes the visit of the tourist trail carried out in the Puyango The identification of the pilot area includes the visit of the tourist trail carried out in the Puyango Petrified Forest (PPF), in the province of El Oro. This guided route lasts approximately 45 min and Petrified Forest (PPF), in the province of El Oro. This guided route lasts approximately 45 min and observation stops are made at the stations: (1) Lava flows, (2) Path of the Araucarias, that is a genus observation stops are made at the stations: (1) Lava flows, (2) Path of the Araucarias, that is a genus of of evergreen coniferous trees in the family Araucariaceae, (3) Deposit of petrified logs, (4) evergreen coniferous trees in the family Araucariaceae, (3) Deposit of petrified logs, (4) Carboniferous Carboniferous zones, (5) Path of the Giant, and (6) Giant Petrine (Figure 4). zones, (5) Path of the Giant, and (6) Giant Petrine (Figure 4). Figure 4. Map of the Puyango Petrified Forest tourist trail, El Oro Province [28]. For a better Figscientific ure 4. Map r efer of th ence e Puy about ango P LIGs, etrified Table Fores 2t details tourist tthe rail,important El Oro Prov geological ince [28]. aspects such as geological structures and type of rocks found in the geosite, as well as paleontological aspects that For a better scientific reference about LIGs, Table 2 details the important geological aspects such stand out for their fossil content, the type of fossilization and the number of petrified trunks found in as geological structures and type of rocks found in the geosite, as well as paleontological aspects that each geosite which makes it an excellent geotouristic remnant. stand out for their fossil content, the type of fossilization and the number of petrified trunks found Some of the LIGs mentioned in Table 2 belong to the province of El Oro, such as the streams in each geosite which makes it an excellent geotouristic remnant. Sábalos, Las Palmas, El Tigre, El Guineo, El Gringo, Quemazón and in the province of Loja are the El Chirimoyo, Cochurco, El Limón, Las Concreciones and Tunima (Figure 5). In the Cochurco, Table 2. Geological and paleontological aspects of the LIGs. El Chirimoyo and Las Concreciones streams, remains of mollusk shell molds such as pelecypods and ammonites have been found in the limestones [26]. Paleontological N° LIGs Geological Aspects Observations Aspects PPF Tourist Volcano-sedimentary It contains abundant It is a guided tourist trail rocks. remains of well- route in the tropical Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 10 of 24 Table 2. Geological and paleontological aspects of the LIGs. N LIGs Geological Aspects Paleontological Aspects Observations It contains abundant It is a guided tourist route 1 PPF Tourist trail Volcano-sedimentary rocks. remains of well-preserved in the tropical dry forest petrified trunks. (fauna and flora). Geological domain: Alamor, Lancones Basin. At the base, The trunks are well some ortho-quartzites and preserved, practically conglomerates rest intact of large dimensions, It contains abundant discordantly on the the only fossil specimens remains of petrified trunks 2 Sábalos stream Amotape, Tahuin massif. resulting from the corresponding to Black marl, massive layers of fossilization process of Araucariaceas. limestone and banded black petrification, product of shales, clays, siltstones and the replacement of organic sandstones with lava and matter by silica. sedimentary volcano rocks. Remains of fossil roots (charred), remains of A petrified trunk of Volcanic materials and petrified trunks. Fossil Araucariaceas well 3 Cochurco stream sedimentary limestones invertebrates, present as preserved, in a significant and shales. internal and vertical position. external moulds. Remains of fossil invertebrates: Pelecypods, Geological deformations Inoceramus and Ammonites; Invertebrate marine fauna 4 Chirimoyo stream (folds) in sedimentary rocks and microfossils: planktonic is very frequent. represented by clay. and benthic foraminifera, calcareous nanofossils and Palinomorphs. Petrified (carbonized) trunks, in which the cellulose of the trees was Geological deformations, Petrified trunks well transformed into fold (anticline) in preserved. Invertebrate anthracite due to the loss 5 El Limón stream volcano-sedimentary rocks. fossils: foraminifera and of methane, water and Calcareous rocks calcareous nanofossils. carbon dioxide. (Coquina type). This geosite has a potential area to recreation (crystal clear lagoon). It shows stratifications by Fossil invertebrates: a the alternative deposit of phylum of molluscs, bivalves 6 El Guineo stream Pelecypod prints. sediments of di erent and ammonites and composition. petrified trunks. Fossil invertebrates: a Vegetable fossil remains, Volcano-sedimentary rocks, 7 Gringo Beach phylum of molluscs, from fossilization limestones, shales and clays. bivalves and ammonites. processes (carbonization). Limestone outcrop associated with a core of Ammonite concretions. A unique geosite: can be Ammonites. Shales, marls Molluscs, foraminifera and 8 Las Concreciones stream shown calcareous and thin layers of clays. The calcareous nanofossils and concretions. limestones inside have ostracods. pyrite. Remains of allochthonous Little diversity of petrified 9 Las Palmas stream Volcano-sedimentary rocks. petrified trunks. trunks. Geological deformations, Appears a few remains of Fossilization processes 10 Quemazón stream folding and thrust in petrified (charred) trunks. (carbonization). limestone rocks. Petrified trunk in Volcano-clastic rocks, with volcano-clastic rocks with Petrified trunks 11 Tunima stream levels containing a diameter smaller than well preserved. petrified trunks. found in Sábalos and Chocurco streams. Geographical reference whose cause has an altitude of 200 m.a.s.l, is the water Appears remains of Allochthonous 12 Puyango River course axis of importance for the petrified trunks and petrified trunks. ENE-WSW direction fossil invertebrates. according to the structural limits of the sector. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 11 of 24 Table 2. Cont. N LIGs Geological Aspects Paleontological Aspects Observations Allochthonous 13 Puyango, Alamor trail None. None. petrified trunks. Volcano-sedimentary Vegetable fossil remains The only geosite with a sediments reddish color due (fossilized leaf) by petrified leaf specimen in 14 El Tigre stream to the presence of fossilization processes the fossilization process iron oxides. (carbonization). (carbonization). Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 24 Geological deformations Metamorphic deformations. Geosite without 15 La Libertad fold due to Anticline fold. paleontological remains. compressive stresses. paleontological Appears deposits of visible Sedimentary rocks material of sedimentary information. Recreational tourist place 16 Playón Las Pailas carbonated, with remains of rocks along the river bed in for organized activities. invertebrates. the dry season. Some of the LIGs mentioned in Table 2 belong to the province of El Oro, such as the streams Exists geological Petrified trunks, fossils. information (samples of Recreation area, location Sábalos, Las Palmas, El Tigre, El Guineo, El Gringo, Quemazón and in the province of Loja are the El 17 PPF Interpretation left Disclosure area. rocks and maps of the main gorges, Chirimoyo, Cochurco, El Limón, Las Concreciones and Tunima (Figure 5). In the Cochurco, El calcareous concretions). paleontological information. Chirimoyo and Las Concreciones streams, remains of mollusk shell molds such as pelecypods and ammonites have been found in the limestones [26]. (b) (a) (d) (c) Figure 5. Streams of the province of El Oro (a) Sábalos, (b) Cochurco, (c) Las Palmas and (d) Figure 5. Streams of the province of El Oro (a) Sábalos, (b) Cochurco, (c) Las Palmas and (d) Las Las Concreciones. Concreciones. Moreover, a stratigraphic column of the Las Concreciones stream is shown (Figure 6) as a result Moreover, a stratigraphic column of the Las Concreciones stream is shown (Figure 6) as a result of the scientific research carried out in. The stream adopted that name because at the beginning of the scientific research carried out in. The stream adopted that name because at the beginning of of the stream, precisely upstream, there are concretions of limestone rolled from the upper part, the stream, precisely upstream, there are concretions of limestone rolled from the upper part, whose outcrop is made of sedimentary material. On the shales, limestones, marls and thin layers of clay are observed. Limestone concretions of 0.80 m in diameter are observed in the rock with a light gray hue. The limestones are crystalline with pyrite as a mineral. In addition, the concretion of two Ammonite molds lie, and a large limestone outcrop approximately 7 m thick stands out at the end of the station [27]. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 12 of 24 whose outcrop is made of sedimentary material. On the shales, limestones, marls and thin layers of clay are observed. Limestone concretions of 0.80 m in diameter are observed in the rock with a light gray hue. The limestones are crystalline with pyrite as a mineral. In addition, the concretion of two Ammonite molds lie, and a large limestone outcrop approximately 7 m thick stands out at the end of the station [27]. Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 13 of 24 Figure 6. Stratigraphic Column of the Las Concreciones stream. Modified from [29]. Figure 6. Stratigraphic Column of the Las Concreciones stream. Modified from [29]. The fossil invertebrates are marine and belong to the pelecypods and cephalopod classes of The fossil invertebrates are marine and belong to the pelecypods and cephalopod classes of mollusks (Figure 7). The cephalopod class is represented by ammonoids represented by the internal mollusks (Figure 7). The cephalopod class is represented by ammonoids represented by the internal and and external molds as well as petrified shells in the Cochurco, El Chirimoyo, El Limón, Las external molds as well as petrified shells in the Cochurco, El Chirimoyo, El Limón, Las Concreciones, Concreciones, and El Guineo streams. The internal molds of mollusks with Nucula spp, Inoceramus and El Guineo streams. The internal molds of mollusks with Nucula spp, Inoceramus concentricus, Astarte concentricus, Astarte spp and Heterodontido (See supplementary Figures S1, S2, S3, S4) [26]. spp and Heterodontido (See Supplementary Figures S1–S4) [26]. Figure 7. Macro-fossils in the province of Loja: (a) Pelecipodo heterodontido, (b) Ostrea sp., (c) Astarte sp., (d) Peltoceras sp., (e) Fragment of return of Ammonitido and (f) Schoenbachia sp. Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 13 of 24 Figure 6. Stratigraphic Column of the Las Concreciones stream. Modified from [29]. The fossil invertebrates are marine and belong to the pelecypods and cephalopod classes of mollusks (Figure 7). The cephalopod class is represented by ammonoids represented by the internal and external molds as well as petrified shells in the Cochurco, El Chirimoyo, El Limón, Las Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 13 of 24 Concreciones, and El Guineo streams. The internal molds of mollusks with Nucula spp, Inoceramus concentricus, Astarte spp and Heterodontido (See supplementary Figures S1, S2, S3, S4) [26]. Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 16 of 24 Figure 7. Macro-fossils in the province of Loja: (a) Pelecipodo heterodontido, (b) Ostrea sp., (c) Astarte Figure 7. Macro-fossils in the province of Loja: (a) Pelecipodo heterodontido, (b) Ostrea sp., (c) Astarte sp., The town is located at the entrance to the forest sp., (d) Peltoceras sp., (e) Fragment of return of Ammonitido and (f) Schoenbachia sp. (d) Peltoceras sp., (e) Fragment of return of Ammonitido and (f) Schoenbachia sp. tourist complex that belongs to the province of El Population density Oro, Las Lajas canton. It has an economically 4.2. Evaluation (potential aggression) active population of approximately 200 people, The results of phase ii with the scientific, didactic and touristic interests are presented according mostly farmers [26]. to the IELIG methodology with its justification in Table 3. To obtain the value of each item of interest, Equations (1)–(3) were used. Results reveal that To obtain the value of each item of interest, Equations (1)–(3) were used. Results reveal that the the Puyango Petrified Forest presents a “Very high” and “High” global degree of interest in the Puyango Petrified Forest presents a “Very high” and “High” global degree of interest in the Scientific Scientific (Si), Didactic (Di) and Touristic (Ti) aspects. Although some of them have a “Middle” public (Si), Didactic (Di) and Touristic (Ti) aspects. Although some of them have a “Middle” public interest interest (Figure 8), the reason is that the lack of strategies that promote the geodiversity of the area (Figure 8), the reason is that the lack of strategies that promote the geodiversity of the area through through geotourism. geotourism. Figure 8. Assessment of the degree of geological interest of the LIGs in the Puyango Petrified Forest Figure 8. Assessment of the degree of geological interest of the LIGs in the Puyango Petrified Forest according to IELIG. according to IELIG. The results of the applied evaluation of the IELIG methodology are represented in Table 4, noting that there are four LIGs with Geological Interest (IG) “Very High”, nine of interest “High” and four “Medium”, reflecting the great relevance of the Puyango Petrified Forest. The Global Protection Priority (PPG) values are also shown, finding most of the LIGs with the rating of “Medium-low”. Table 4. Quantitative assessment of parameters Scientific interest (Si), Didactic interest (Di), Touristic interest (Ti), Total Average Weight (Taw), Degree of geological interest (GI), Susceptibility of Degradation (SD), Scientific Protection Priority (SPP), Didactic Protection Priority (DPP), Touristic Protection Priority (TPP), Protection Priority (PP) and Global Protection Priority (PPG), according to the IELIG methodology. N° LIGs Si Di Ti Taw GI SD SPP DPP TPP PP PPG PPF Touristic Very 1 380 275 230 295 50 45.13 23.63 16.53 27.20 High trail High Sábalos Very Medium- 2 360 250 285 298 4.50 3.65 1.76 2.28 2.50 stream High low Cochurco Medium- 3 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 stream low Chirimoyo Medium- 4 330 215 225 257 High 18 12.25 5.20 5.69 7.41 stream low Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 14 of 24 Table 3. Description of the main indicators evaluated by the IELIG methodology. Value Indicators/Parameters Description The Puyango Petrified Forest (PPF) is a source of knowledge and well-being and it is the unique place with the best paleontological exposure in Ecuador. The area shows a sequence of Representativeness volcano-sediment from the Cretaceous age (Albian-Middle). A collection of petrified trunks, fossilized leaves of common gymnosperms and remains of mollusk shell molds of the Southern Cretaceous have been found in PPF deposits. PPF is a site of geological interest and a good example of a paleontological deposit, Prototype location where specimens of petrified trunks and character other allochthonous from Aptian-Middle and Jurassic-Cretaceous are found in situ. There are several works published in national and international journals performed by geoscientists and theses Degree of scientific carried out by students and professionals knowledge of the place on geological, paleontological, archaeological, botanical, cultural, economic and tourism topics. PPF presents a regular state of conservation. Some deteriorated areas prevent the observation of geological State of conservation characteristics (landslides). Some information panels are partially deteriorated. Scientific value The observation of several silicified trunks of Araucariaceas and Metapodocarpoxylon specimens, marine invertebrate fossils of the phylum Mollusca of the pelecypods class and cephalopod (ammonoids) possible. The fossilized flora corresponds Observation conditions to the subphylum of the mid-Mesozoic gymnosperms of the Zamites, Dioonites, Nilssonia, Otozamites, Podozamites, Carpites, and other genera. It is also a dry-tropical forest ecosystem that preserves species (fauna and flora) existing today. The petrified trunks of Puyango represent one of the largest collections of petrified Rarity wood in Ecuador and probably in the world. The site has unique characteristics from the Cretaceous Period. The paleontological aspect stands out as the main geological interest, followed by the stratigraphic, sedimentological, Geological diversity structural and geological history. Secondary features are the historical/archaeological, biodiversity, cultural and landscape. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 15 of 24 Table 3. Cont. Value Indicators/Parameters Description Educational visits and excursions from schools, colleges, and universities take Didactic content place considering the protection of the geological-paleontological heritage of the place. It lacks nearby accommodations and restaurants for tourist groups, but it has Logistics infrastructure an interpretation and information left for tourists. Using a national highway there is the access Guayaquil-Machala-Arenillas-Puyango with a 276 km route. From Huaquillas (border with Peru), there are 62 km. Accessibility Another access road goes from Loja-Veracruz- Catacocha’s city through a state highgway and then El Empalme-Celica-Alamor-Puyango with a Educational potential distance of 213 km [26]. and touristic use Association with other Numerous archaeological remains elements of the natural (petroglyphs) found in di erent parts of and/or cultural heritage the Puyango canton. Landscape, river course, remains of plant Magnificence or beauty fossils and invertebrates as evidence of ancient times. Informative Limited and without a tourist information content/Informative use department. detected Potential to carry out It has touristic trails, fossil deposits touristic and recreational and streams. activities Proximity to recreational There is a camping area less than 500 m areas (immediate from the forest. potential demand) The most common economic activities are Socioeconomic the short cycle crops sowing and co ee, environment cattle and pig raising. LIG size Area of 2.6 ha. with 17 LIGs. A paleontological site of great value, with Vulnerability to plunder numerous specimens and easy plunder. Fragility Possible landslides, flooding of rivers, Natural threats weakening of the soil and climatic variations due to severe droughts. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 16 of 24 Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 17 of 24 Table 3. Cont. El Limón Medium- Value Indicators/Parameters Description 5 335 215 260 270 High 0 0 0 0 0 stream low Proximity to anthropic El Guineo Medium- Place not threatened. 6 185 150 175 170 High 0 0 0 0 0 activities (infrastructure) stream low Interest for mining No mining interest in the area. Medium- 7 Gringo Beach 240 165 175 193 High 9.75 3.15 1.66 1.87 2.27 low Cultural Heritage, Ordinance for the Las Declaration of the Bi-provincial Protected Medium- Site protection regime 8 Concreciones 270 175 255 233 High 5.63 2.56 1.08 2.29 1.91 Area, in the Category of Ecological low stream Conservation Area. Las Palmas Medium- 9 110 80Physical 145 or 11indir 2 Med ect ium 9 0.68 0.36 1.18 0.70 Protected area with access to tourists. stream low protection Vulnerability due to Quemazón Medium- anthropogenic threats 10 305 170 210 228 High 0 0 0 0 0 Accessibility It is directly accessible through unpaved stream low (potential assault) and passable track for tourism. Tunima Medium- 11 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 stream Location in restricted access areas low Place ownership regime declared as natural heritage. Puyango Medium- 12 110 90 140 113 Medium 82.50 6.24 4.18 10.11 6.62 River course low The town is located at the entrance to the Puyango- Medium- forest tourist complex that belongs to the 13 110 90 140 113 Medium 82.50 6.24 4.18 10.11 6.62 Alamor trail low Population density province of El Oro, Las Lajas canton. El Tigre Medium- (potential aggression) It has an economically active population 14 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 stream of approximately 200 people, mostly low farmers [26]. La Libertad Medium- 15 110 80 145 112 Medium 9 0.68 0.36 1.18 0.70 fold low Playón Las Medium- 16 240 165 175 193 High 9.75 3.15 1.66 1.87 2.27 The results of the applied evaluation of the IELIG methodology are represented in Table 4, noting Pailas low that there are four LIGs with Geological Interest (IG) “Very High”, nine of interest “High” and four PPF Very “Medium”, reflecting the great relevance of the Puyango Petrified Forest. The Global Protection Priority 17 Interpretation 380 275 230 295 50 45.13 23.63 16.53 27.20 High High Center (PPG) values are also shown, finding most of the LIGs with the rating of “Medium-low”. The fossilized trunks resulted from the fossilization process, especially petrification by replacing The fossilized trunks resulted from the fossilization process, especially petrification by replacing organic matter such as cellulose and limenine with silica [33,35]. The paleontological importance organic matter such as cellulose and limenine with silica [33,35]. The paleontological importance with with the highest concentration of logs has been found in the old Puyango-Alamor highway and El the highest concentration of logs has been found in the old Puyango-Alamor highway and El Chirimoyo, El Limón, and Cochurco streams, where specimens of logs of up to 26 m long by 2.2 m in Chirimoyo, El Limón, and Cochurco streams, where specimens of logs of up to 26 m long by 2.2 m in diameter have been located (Figure 9). diameter have been located (Figure 9). (b) (c) (a) Figure 9. (a,b) Logs petrified with silica. (c) Giant petrified trunk. Figure 9. (a,b) Logs petrified with silica. (c) Giant petrified trunk. From the point of view of the conservation of LIG, it is necessary to determine the susceptibility of degradation. This analysis is performed through the fragility and natural threats components. Hence, mitigation actions can be taken to reduce as far as possible the vulnerability of the geosite and the damage caused by an event and anthropic threats identified in the sector. The data obtained as a result of the implementation of Equations (6)–(10) were presented in Table 4. With this values, Protection priorities “Medium-low” were identified for each of the protection priority parameters Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 17 of 24 Table 4. Quantitative assessment of parameters Scientific interest (Si), Didactic interest (Di), Touristic interest (Ti), Total Average Weight (Taw), Degree of geological interest (GI), Susceptibility of Degradation (SD), Scientific Protection Priority (SPP), Didactic Protection Priority (DPP), Touristic Protection Priority (TPP), Protection Priority (PP) and Global Protection Priority (PPG), according to the IELIG methodology. N LIGs Si Di Ti Taw GI SD SPP DPP TPP PP PPG PPF Touristic 1 380 275 230 295 Very High 50 45.13 23.63 16.53 27.20 High trail 2 Sábalos stream 360 250 285 298 Very High 4.50 3.65 1.76 2.28 2.50 Medium-low Cochurco 3 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 Medium-low stream Chirimoyo 4 330 215 225 257 High 18 12.25 5.20 5.69 7.41 Medium-low stream El Limón 5 335 215 260 270 High 0 0 0 0 0 Medium-low stream El Guineo 6 185 150 175 170 High 0 0 0 0 0 Medium-low stream 7 Gringo Beach 240 165 175 193 High 9.75 3.15 1.66 1.87 2.27 Medium-low Las 8 Concreciones 270 175 255 233 High 5.63 2.56 1.08 2.29 1.91 Medium-low stream Las Palmas 9 110 80 145 112 Medium 9 0.68 0.36 1.18 0.70 Medium-low stream Quemazón 10 305 170 210 228 High 0 0 0 0 0 Medium-low stream 11 Tunima stream 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 Medium-low Puyango River 12 110 90 140 113 Medium 82.50 6.24 4.18 10.11 6.62 Medium-low course Puyango-Alamor 13 110 90 140 113 Medium 82.50 6.24 4.18 10.11 6.62 Medium-low trail 14 El Tigre stream 320 225 235 260 High 8.25 5.28 2.61 2.85 3.49 Medium-low La Libertad 15 110 80 145 112 Medium 9 0.68 0.36 1.18 0.70 Medium-low fold Playón Las 16 240 165 175 193 High 9.75 3.15 1.66 1.87 2.27 Medium-low Pailas PPF 17 Interpretation 380 275 230 295 Very High 50 45.13 23.63 16.53 27.20 High Center From the point of view of the conservation of LIG, it is necessary to determine the susceptibility of degradation. This analysis is performed through the fragility and natural threats components. Hence, mitigation actions can be taken to reduce as far as possible the vulnerability of the geosite and the damage caused by an event and anthropic threats identified in the sector. The data obtained as a result of the implementation of Equations (6)–(10) were presented in Table 4. With this values, Protection priorities “Medium-low” were identified for each of the protection priority parameters SPP, DPP, TPP and PP, which depend on the value calculated in the LIG Degradation Susceptibility (SD), this parameter is calculated independently of the others. The Figure 10 shows the sections of SPP, DPP and TPP with a global Protection Priority (PP) “Medium-low”, except for two LIGs with a PP “High”. Sustainability 2020, 12, x FOR PEER REVIEW 18 of 24 SPP, DPP, TPP and PP, which depend on the value calculated in the LIG Degradation Susceptibility (SD), this parameter is calculated independently of the others. The Figure 10 shows the sections of SPP, DPP and TPP with a global Protection Priority (PP) “Medium-low”, except for two LIGs with a Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 18 of 24 PP “High”. Figure 10. Assessment of the Protection Priority of the LIGs. Figure 10. Assessment of the Protection Priority of the LIGs. Additionally, all 17 LIGs which strengthen the entire system of geological-paleontological heritage Additionally, all 17 LIGs which strengthen the entire system of geological-paleontological in this sector are marked in the PPF. With the application of the Scientific, Didactic, Tourist and Popular heritage in this sector are marked in the PPF. With the application of the Scientific, Didactic, Tourist Interest with Accessibility, Sensitivity and Conservation Status methodology (SDTPI-ASC), the authors and Popular Interest with Accessibility, Sensitivity and Conservation Status methodology (SDTPI- identified the di erent types of interest: Scientific (Si), Didactic (Di), Tourist (Ti) and Popularization ASC), the authors identified the different types of interest: Scientific (Si), Didactic (Di), Tourist (Ti) (Pi). The SDTPI-ASC was supported by the criteria of experts Nelson Jiménez, Jorge Marcos and Irina and Popularization (Pi). The SDTPI-ASC was supported by the criteria of experts Nelson Jiménez, Xomchuk, based on [26]; Table 5 illustrates the SDTPI-ASC methodology. Jorge Marcos and Irina Xomchuk, based on [26]; Table 5 illustrates the SDTPI-ASC methodology. Table 5. Referential assessment of the LIGs by the SDTPI-ASC methodology evaluated by experts in Table 5. Referential assessment of the LIGs by the SDTPI-ASC methodology evaluated by experts in the Puyango Petrified Forest. It has a type of interest (3). the Puyango Petrified Forest. It has a type of interest (✓). Type of Interest UTM Conservation Accessibility Sensitivity N LIGs UTM Type of interest Conservation Coordinates Status N° LIGs Si Di Ti Pi Accessibility Sensitivity Coordinates Si Di Ti Pi Status PPF Tourist 601735E, 601735E, 1 3 3 3 3 Good Average Good 1 PPF Toutrail rist trail 9560324S Good Average Good ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ 9560324S 602734E, 2 Sábalos stream 602734E, 3 3 3 3 Good Average Good 9570326S 2 Sábalos stream ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ Good Average Good 9570326S Cochurco 606966E, 3 3 3 3 3 Good Poor Good Cochurco 606966E, stream 9572143S 3 ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ Good Poor Good stream 9572143S Chirimoyo 603047E, Below 4 3 3 3 Poor Good Chirimoyo 603047E, Below stream 9563869S average 4 ✓ ✓ ✓ Poor Good stream 9563869S average El Limón 606437E, Below Below 5 3 3 3 3 Poor 606437E, Below stream 9571676S average average 5 El Limón stream ✓ ✓ ✓ ✓ Poor Below average 9571676S average El Guineo 598773E, Below Below 6 3 3 Poor El Guineo 598773E, Below stream 9567082S average average 6 Poor Below average ✓ ✓ stream 9567082S average 600022E, Below 7 Gringo Beach 3 3 3 Poor Good 600022E, Below 9573244S average 7 Gringo Beach ✓ ✓ ✓ Poor Good 9573244S average Las 602810E, Below 8 Concreciones 3 3 Poor Poor 9570930S average stream Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 19 of 24 Table 5. Cont. Type of Interest UTM Conservation Accessibility Sensitivity N LIGs Coordinates Status Si Di Ti Pi Las Palmas 600442E, Below 9 3 3 3 Poor Good stream 9571602S average Quemazón 603298E, Below 10 3 Good Poor stream 9570534S average 612035E, Below 11 Tunima stream 3 Poor Good 9570322S average Puyango River 601926E, Below 12 3 3 Regular Poor course 9570859S average Puyango-Alamor 602305E, Below 13 3 3 Good Poor trail 9567823S average 605566E, Below 14 El Tigre stream 3 3 Good Average 9571653S average La Libertad 600021E, Below Below Below 15 3 3 fold 9573243S average average average Playón Las 606828E, Below 16 3 3 Good Average Pailas 9571865S average PPF 601354E Below Below 17 Interpretation 3 3 3 Good 9568864S average average Center 4.3. Strategies The results obtained through a SWOT analysis, which required extensive geological-paleontological fieldwork with experts and people from the community, are presented in Table 6. The authors took the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into account to obtain strategies in terms of sustainable geotourism. Table 6. Matrix of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) of the Puyango Petrified Forest. Strengths Weaknesses S . Puyango is the unique petrified forest of W Lack of “social awareness” Cretaceous-Aptian age in the necessary in a country and it has international Internal environment geological-paleontological and relevance. cultural heritage. S It has an outstanding scientific W Lack of infrastructure and interest due to the exceptional tourist care services (emergency type of fossilization of the ward, restaurants, and lodgings). petrified trunks. W Lack of a bilingual tourist External environment S It was declared the Ecuadorian information center that provides a Cultural Heritage Treasure. scientific and relevant information S The unique forest that W Lack of internet access and combines petrified and natural media communications. trees. It is the habitat of 65 species of birds and other animals. Opportunities Strategy: Strategy: Strengths + Opportunities Weaknesses + Opportunities Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 20 of 24 Table 6. Cont. S O Complement studies to 1. 1. generate a database of scientific W O Participatory Geopark 1. 1. information on paleontological proposal that integrates resources. geodiversity, biodiversity, territory O Geopark Project proposal under development by S O Develop strategies for the and people. 2. 2. government entities and universities. sustainable management of W O Promote Social 2. 2. O Protection and restoration of LIGs through cultural and natural resources: Management programs (training various strategies with national and international conservation, research, and and awareness) that involve rural organizations. development for the proposal of families in the management of O Geotourism development open to improvement. the Puyango Geopark project. resources. O Declare PPF as a Biosphere Reserve (BR) in the S O Undertake conservation W O Promote the management 3. 3. 4. 4. dry forest of southern Ecuador. It is a strategic and cleaning work on fossil of information, production and opportunity. outcrops, protection of specimens popularization of knowledge and in situ, an adaptation of trails and tourism promotion at national and placement of information panels. international level, through ICTs. Threats Strategy: Strategy: Strength + Threats Weaknesses + Threats W T Promote sustainable 1. 1. tourism and mitigation of local anthropogenic threats. W T To plan and promote the 2. 2. T The burning of vegetation to obtain new land for reforestation in selected areas planting. through a pilot program, all T Deforestation and overgrazing that degrades the together with farm owners within ecosystem. the forest has protected area to T Collection of samples without approval from establish a mining-environmental Authorities. S T Encourage the development order. 2. 4. T Demand from the neighboring country Peru for W T Find private investors for of good bilateral relations with the 4. 3. 3. the pollution of the Puyango River due to mining neighboring country Peru. This the construction of a tourist e ects outside the PPF [36]. strategy stabilizes the intra-border accommodation and recreation T Possible landslides, river floods and climatic situation and encourages Peruvian center. variations due to severe droughts. tourism to the PPF area. W T Build a permanent 4. 4. S T T . Recovery of the Information Center and 3. 3. 4 paleontological deposit of fossil administrative oces, according outcrops of trees and marine to the regulations to certify the invertebrates from the PPF and area as an eco-touristic site. nearby areas such as the Piedmont of the Tumbesina eco-region (Ecuador-Peru). S T Legal regulations with 4. 3. permanent control on all activities within the forest, such as trail management, conservation, sta performance, tour operators, transportation income, agricultural production, etc. 5. Discussion The results obtained based on the IELIG’s methodology provided data for both a quantitative and qualitative analysis, where the experts in geological, paleontological and archaeological sciences highlighted the forest’s value as a unique example of the Cretaceous Period at a national level, which requires the recovery and preservation of its importance of the PPF as an Ecuadorian unique example of the Cretaceous Period, which requires the recovery and conservation of its heritage for sustainable development [37]. Additionally, the analysis suggested that the geotourism alternative supports the “Puyango” Geopark project. Experts have considered a referential assessment from 17 LIGs taken in the forest which on average are described as “below average” accessibility, “poor” sensibility and a “below average” conservations state that supports the usage of strategies to enhance the development of this area destinated for the geotourism as a pedagogical tool; it also promotes the restitution and improvement of geological and paleontological informative panels. Thus, it is essential to incorporate a web page to strengthen and increase the influx of tourists in the area, where the site is scientific and cultural information is disseminated nationally and internationally and to keep a record of annual visits. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 21 of 24 The methodological study allows considering the PPF as a Geological Interest Place (LIG, acronym in Spanish) for the geological, paleontological, historical and cultural environment that surrounds it. The results evidenced to “Very high” geological interest in the LIGs “PPF Touristic trail”, “Sábalos stream”, “El Limón stream” and “PPF Interpretation Center”; “High” geological interest in “Cochurco stream”, “Chirimoyo stream”, “El Guineo stream”, “Gringo Beach”, “Las Concreciones stream”, “Quemazón stream”, “Tunima stream”, “El Tigre stream” and “Playón Las Pailas” highlighting the paleontology of the place. The LIG Protection Priority (PP) scores classified as “Medium-low” in most LIGs; this is because the Puyango Petrified Forest (PPF) is a protected natural reserve of public administration, which gives it the competence and authority to management and protection policies. The LIGs to “PPF Touristic trail” and “PPF Interpretation Center” have a “High” rating of Protection Priority since they have a high influx of national and international visitors [17]. In the assessment, vulnerability to plunder also responded to the anthropic threat caused directly by collectors as the paleontological appeal is an intrinsic characteristic of the geosite. Therefore, knowing its PP fosters the adoption of measures for the conservation of the LIG [38,39]. Despite having high values in the geological-paleontological interest, it is necessary to monitor PPF, implement the proposed strategies and analyze its tourist development since it has 13,000 visitors per year, 70% are domestic tourists and 30% foreign [40]. Furthermore, the present study identifies shortcomings in terms of the infrastructure, as the place demands services for tourists such as accommodation, restaurants, a health care center and internet access and media communication. Nevertheless, PPF, with just 2659 hectares, has great potential compared to other forests with a large concentration of petrified wood such as the Jaramillo Petrified Forest National Park in Santa Cruz-Argentina of the Middle-Upper Jurassic Period [41]. The latter has 15,000 hectares and an average of 4800 tourists a year. Another case is the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, United States, of the Triassic Period, that includes more than 20,000 ha and around 5800 visitors per year [42,43]. Therefore, the results obtained in this study were satisfactory and provided necessary information to evaluate possible threats that a ect the forest and its heritage in a natural environment and to boost the execution and implementation of scientific and territorial ordering in projects according to the population’s capacity and the reality of the site [44,45]. 6. Conclusions The assessment of the methodology of the Spanish Inventory of Places of Geological Interest (IELIG, acronym in Spanish) carried out on seventeen di erent stations in the Puyango Petrified Forest, proved that it is a Place of Geological Interest (LIG, acronym in Spanish). Thus, PPF is in the categories of Very high and High interest in the scientific, tourist and educational sectors, for its great potential and geological relevance to promote geotouristic development. The geodiversity of the forest is the main strength of the area, since it is considered a geological-paleontological heritage site, for purposes of touristic interpretation. PPF is one of the few sites in the world where you can analyze the paleontological aspects of the prehistoric flora and relate it to the current plant landscape. These characteristics make PPF an icon of geotourism in the sector. Hence, the proposed methodology SDTPI-ASC assessed the 17 LIGs in a preliminary stage and gave PPF a great value as a place of geological-paleontological heritage. Moreover, this analysis is a significant contribution to academia and its application facilitates the recognition of LIGs. Thus, the geopark project generates an alternative for the scientific, cultural and economic development of the population through a territorial order that addresses the 2030 Agenda and contains 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The importance of anthropogenic threats (deforestation, overgrazing, sample collection, burning of vegetation for new land and planting) and natural threats (landslides, river floods, severe droughts) faced by the geosites urge the protection and conservation of the LIGs. Therefore, strategies will substantially improve environmental, geological and paleontological conservation, as well as community participation and dissemination in the short and long term. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6579 22 of 24 Finally, the development of bilateral relations with the neighboring country Peru will stabilize the intra-border situation and encourage Peruvian tourism to the PPF area. In addition, it will promote relations with international organizations interested in supporting the proposal for the sustainable conservation and resource management of the Puyango geopark project. Supplementary Materials: The following are available online at http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/16/6579/s1, in the book “PUYANGO: ENTRE PASADO Y PRESENTE” (“PUYANGO: BETWEEN PAST AND PRESENT”) of the Valuation Study of the Petrified Forest of Puyango, Loja Province, Ecuador. First edition, Guayaquil-Ecuador, 2004, ISBN: 9978-310-07 [26], Figure S1: Macrofossils, Figure S2: Macrofossils, Figure S3: Microfossils, Figure S4: Microfossils. Author Contributions: Conceptualization, P.C.-M., F.M.-C. and N.J.-O.; methodology, F.M.-C., G.H.-N., N.J.-O. and P.C.-M.; software, G.H.-N.; validation, P.C.-M., N.J.-O. and F.M.-C.; formal analysis, F.M.-C., G.H.-N., N.J.-O. and P.C.-M.; investigation, N.J.-O., F.M.-C. and G.H.-N.; resources, F.M.-C., G.H.-N., N.J.-O. and P.C.-M.; data curation, N.J.-O., G.H.-N. and F.M.-C.; writing—original draft preparation, N.J.-O. and G.H.-N.; writing—review and editing, P.C.-M., F.M.-C., N.J.-O. and G.H.-N.; visualization, F.M.-C., G.H.-N., N.J.-O. and P.C.-M.; supervision, F.M.-C. and N.J.-O.; project administration, N.J.-O and F.M.-C.; funding acquisition, N.J.-O. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript. Funding: This work was supported by ESPOL Research projects: “Estudio de Valoración y Diagnóstico de Paleontología, Botánica, Arqueología y Etnografía en Puyango, Celica y Paltas, Provincia de Loja” (Study of assessment and diagnosis of paleontology, botany, archaeology and ethnography in Puyango, Celica and Paltas, Loja province), “Propuesta de Geoparque Ruta del Oro y su incidencia en el desarrollo territorial” (“Ruta del Oro” Geopark proposal and its impact on territorial development) under grant nos CIPAT-02-2018 and “Registro del Patrimonio Geológico y Minero y su incidencia en la defensa y preservación de la geodiversidad en Ecuador” (Registry of Geological and Mining Heritage and its impact on the defense and preservation of geodiversity in Ecuador) under grant nos CIPAT-01-2018. Acknowledgments: The authors wish to acknowledge Ivan Romero and Josue Briones for their support and recommendations in the preparation of this research. 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