A stunning area in Northern Ireland has been named as a UNESCO global geopark.
County Down's Mourne Gullion Strangford encompasses three areas of outstanding natural beauty, including the Mourne Mountains, the Ring of Gullion, and Strangford Lough and Lecale. It also serves as the backdrop for several scenes in the hit HBO series "Game of Thrones."
A granite mountain range, the Mourne Mountains include the highest mountains in Northern Ireland, the highest of which is Slieve Donard, which stands at 850 meters.
Newry Mourne and Down District Council's application for global geopark status was ratified by UNESCO's executive board in Paris on Wednesday after initially being approved by UNESCO last December.
Branded "A Tale of Two Oceans", the geopark spans 400 million years of geological history and charts the closure of the ancient Iapetus Ocean, which created the island of Ireland as it is known today. It also follows the drifting of the island and the birth of the modern Atlantic Ocean.
The team behind the bid said no other UNESCO geopark could boast the same range of geological characteristics.
Michael Savage, chairperson of the Newry Mourne and Down District Council, said one of the geopark's fundamental principles is "risk mitigation", adding that a recent project has helped revitalize dunes at Tyrella Beach near Downpatrick.
"This tourist hotspot was at serious risk of erosion due to the loss of its dunes until local volunteers and geopark staff got together with homegrown charity True Harvest Seeds to gather, grow and plant native dune grasses to capture the blowing sand," Savage told the BBC.
"Within just a month of starting this project, there is already visible dune regrowth, protecting not only the lovely smooth tourist beach of Tyrella itself but the low-lying land behind it too."
A UNESCO geopark is defined as a single unified geographical area, where landscapes of geological significance are managed holistically for the protection of its geology, the education of its people and visitors, and the sustainable development of its businesses.
It also requires the area to champion local tourism experiences.
Mark Hanna, who runs a dry-stone walling workshop near Newcastle in County Down, offers one such tourism experience and told the Guardian that the area needs protecting.
"Some local farmers are afraid that the label means more restrictions, but I think we take for granted how beautiful our backyard is – it needs protecting," Hanna told the Guardian.
Meanwhile, Sinead McAleavey, a local storyteller from Hilltown, County Down, told the BBC that the area was special.
"It is like international judges putting a microscope over this area and calling people to say 'come over here, look at this place', it's absolutely amazing," McAleavey told the BBC.
"We need to have pride in ourselves and realize what we have here is so special."
Mourne Gullion Strangford is the second area in Northern Ireland to be awarded UNESCO global geopark status.
In 2015, the Cuilcagh Lakelands Geopark in Fermanagh and Cavan was named a UNESCO global geopark, becoming the world's first cross-border geopark. It now attracts more than 200,000 visitors every year.