Belfast Telegraph

Police probe after fossils stolen

Scientists devastated as 16 rocks are cut out of world-renowned site

By Linda Stewart

Police have been called in after fossil-hunters stole rocks from a north coast nature reserve that once played a key role in the debate about how rocks are formed.

Portrush National Nature Reserve has become a place of pilgrimage for geologists from around the world, but now it will be difficult for visitors to locate the fossils that made it famous after 16 pieces of rock containing ammonites were cut from the ground.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said the fossils were of little commercial value, but 200 years ago were used to support the now-discounted Neptunist theory that igneous rocks – like those found at the Giant's Causeway – were formed in ancient oceans.

The Vulcanist view that such rocks began as molten lava cooling to form basalts and granites is now the accepted theory.

Mr Durkan said the PSNI would be asked to investigate the theft and called on anyone with information to get in touch.

"I am extremely annoyed at the thoughtlessness of the person or people who have damaged the nature reserve at Portrush. Their selfishness has spoiled the experience of other visitors to this important site, some of whom come from overseas specially to visit it," he said.

"I expect members of the public to respect this reserve and other aspects of our natural heritage and hope that anyone with information on this theft will contact the PSNI or Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

"Because of its historical importance, Portrush National Nature Reserve has become a place of pilgrimage for geologists and an important educational site for geology students. The damage caused by the thieves will mean that visitors to the reserve will be hard-pressed to locate the fossils which made it famous. The professional geological community will be outraged at what has happened here.

"The reasons behind the theft are unclear, but the rock samples may have been taken for research purposes, for commercial sale or for a private collection."

The Environment Agency says that within the geological community, the debate about these rocks is seen as the point from which modern geology dates from. Some geologists even regard the rocks at Portrush, which is also an Area of Special Scientific Interest, as the single most important geological locality in the world.

BACKGROUND

Portrush National Nature Reserve is of conservation importance because of its geological features. It is historically important because of its role in the development of geology as a science, being one of the last battlegrounds between two opposing views on how igneous rocks formed. Neptunists argued that all rocks were formed in oceans, but Vulcanists correctly argued the rocks here began as molten lava.

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