While we don’t mean to alarm anyone, you’ve likely heard the grim timelines: if global warming continues, the Great Barrier Reef will be bleached by 2030; glaciers in the Swiss Alps, on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and in Glacier National Park will disappear in under 40 years; and Arctic ice melt will send polar bears into extinction. It’s a sad state of affairs.
So while we sit and hope for a miracle, make sure you travel and see any of the precious places on your bucket list before it’s too late.
While you might be thinking that tourism will add stress to these already distressed areas, in actual fact it can also provide income, which in turn can help preserve these wonders. Here we look at our top seven areas – some that are lesser know than others – and all of which can be visited responsibly.
Belize barrier reef
One of the most diverse reef ecosystems in the world is home to whale sharks, rays, and manatees, as well as sturgeon, conch and spiny lobsters.
The Danger: Sadly, like the Great Barrier Reef here in Australia, the Belize Barrier Reef leads a fragile existence. A section of the nearly 700-mile-long Mesoamerican Reef that reaches from Mexico to Honduras, the Belize reef suffered a severe bleaching in 1998, with a loss of 50 percent of its coral in many areas, including much of its distinctive staghorn coral. Since the bleaching, its decline has continued, due to global warming of the world’s seas, agricultural pollution, development, and increasing tourism, which has given rise to more coastal development and an invasion of cruise ships.
The Congo Basin
Tropical rainforests like the Congo Basin produce 40 per cent of the world’s oxygen and serve as a vital source of food, medicine and minerals.
The Danger: At more than 1.3 million square miles, the Congo Basin has the world’s second-largest rainforest. According to the UN, up to two-thirds of the forest and its unique plants and wildlife could be lost by 2040 unless more effective measures are taken to protect it. Extending across six nations, 10 million acres of forest is degraded each year due to mining, illegal logging, farming, ranching and guerilla warfare. Roads cut by loggers and miners have also enabled poachers and bushmeat hunters to prey on endangered animals like mountain gorillas, forest elephants, bonobos and okapis. As the forest shrinks, less carbon dioxide is absorbed, and rain decreases, adding to climate change.
The Dead Sea
It’s the lowermost spot on earth (1,312 feet below sea level to be exact), has 10 times more saline than seawater (meaning that you would float like a cork does in water), and is believed to contain therapeutic minerals.
The Danger: In the last 40 years, the Dead Sea has shrunk by a third and sunk 80 feet, stranding formerly seaside resorts and restaurants nearly a mile from shore. The Jordan River is the lake’s sole source, and as surrounding countries increasingly tap its waters, little reaches the Dead Sea, which could disappear within 50 years. Further pressure is put on the sea by the cosmetic companies and potash producers who drain it for minerals.
This 2.5 million–acre wetland in Florida encompasses cypress swamps, mangroves, sawgrass and pine savannahs. It's the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators share territory.
The Danger: A host of dangers are putting this delicate wetland at risk: pollution from farms, invasive species, and encroaching development. As a result, The Everglades is now half the size it was in 1900. Worse still, this is the sole habitat of the Florida panther, and there are less than 100 of the creatures left in the wild.
More than 80 percent of Madagascar’s flora and fauna are found nowhere else on Earth, thanks to millions of years of isolation in the Indian Ocean off of Africa.
The Danger: If nothing is done to save the world’s fourth-largest island, its forests will be gone in 35 years (once 120,000 square miles, they're now down to 20,000), and their unique inhabitants along with them. Forest ecosystems are being destroyed by logging, burning for subsistence farms, and poaching.
The nation is rich in coral reefs and endangered fish — such as the giant Napoleon wrasse, leopard shark and some 250 manta rays (most with wingspans of 10 feet).
The Danger: If global warming continues to melt the ice caps and raise sea levels, scientists don’t hold much hope for the Maldives. Its 1,190 small islands and atolls (200 of which are inhabited) scattered across the Indian Ocean rise a mere eight-feet above sea level. In 2008, the President of the Maldives announced the government would start buying land in other countries, including India, for future homes for citizens displaced by rising waters. In 2009, he held a cabinet meeting underwater to stress the islands' vulnerability.
The natural phenomena here are unique and inspiring: towering icebergs, Aurora Borealis, and majestic animals (penguins, polar bears, whales).
The Danger: The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the world’s largest non-profit ocean research group, has predicted that 80 per cent of the emperor penguin population of Antarctica will be lost, and the rest in danger of extinction, if global warming continues. As sea ice disappears at the poles, so do entire ecosystems: the phytoplankton that grows under ice sheets feeds zooplankton and small crustaceans like krill, which are on the food chain for fish, seals, whales, polar bears and penguins. Studies predict that with continued warming, within 20 to 40 years, no ice will form in Antarctica.