There are so many places in the world that we may never get to see - whether from lack of funds, or lack of opportunity - and that’s disappointing enough. To think that we may never see them because they have disappeared or diminished, however - and because they have done so because of environmental factors and human mismanagement … that’s devastating. Here are some of the earth’s treasures which may soon be gone forever.
One of earth’s most significant marine systems, The Great Barrier Reef is huge draw for tourists keen to explore its underwater beauty by way of scuba instruction courses - but there may well be nothing to see by 2050. Already the reef has experienced significant coral bleaching, caused by warming waters - and other factors, such as coal development, overfishing and tourism are only hastening its demise.
The iconic blanket of white that caps Africa’s highest mountain may no longer be available for future generations - or even for us - to see, with scientists saying that global warming is to blame for the fact that the thickness of the snow has decreased by between six and 17 feet in less than 20 years. With the continuation of current conditions, it’s predicted that the ice will have completely disappeared by as early as 2022.
Named on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, industrial activity near the park has affected water quality and impacted on its fragile ecosystem. Wildlife also suffers thanks to introduced species, such as flesh-hungry pythons. The entire Everglades area is around half the size it was even 100 years ago: even though measures are being taken to slow its decline, its landscape will be irrevocably changed.
Another day, another melting glacier - where’s Elsa when you need her? Stretching across Argentina and Chile, these epic landscapes of Patagonia are yet another victim of climate change: the ice is melting and several areas of dark, jagged rock - once covered by ice - are now visible, stark and menacing in the surrounding whiteness.
This Pacific archipelago covers just 3.5 kilometers and is made of 33 tiny coral atolls - sounds like paradise, right? Not for its inhabitants, who are rightly worried that their beloved country will simply cease to exist for future generations: with an average of just two meters’ height between land and sea, global warming and rising waters mean that it could soon be lost forever.
Located in the eastern part of the Prince William Sound, this glacier has been diminishing since the 1980s: each day, around 13 million tons of ice collapse from it, creating huge chunks that float in its surrounding waters.
It’s known as ‘The Floating City’, and is one of the most unimaginably romantic cities on earth, but the water that makes Venice so unique may engulf it within the next 100 years. The culprit is again, of course, rising sea levels, which will see the Mediterranean Sea rise by up to 140cm by 2100, according to the local. Warning signs are already tangible in regular and increasingly severe floods, signalling an end more tragic than that of “Don’t Look Now”, which used Venice as its hauntingly atmospheric setting.
Almost impossible to believe that something created as a monument to the permanence of love could be anything other than … permanent - and yet the Taj Mahal is facing demise from every angle. Pollution is wearing away at its pearly exterior, while annual hordes of tourists are wearing away at its walls and floors. Beneath the surface, the structure’s wooden foundations are also eroding, due to both strain and the falling water levels of the nearby Yamuna River. So much for eternal love, right?
So salty that “you’ll float too” and so rich in minerals that it’s used restoratively for both internal and external conditions, the Dead Sea would do well to make like ET and turn its healing powers on itself: it’s slowly but surely drying up and shrinking under the intense heat of its sun, with its surface level dropping at the rate of more than a meter each year.
The forests of the Congo Basin are the world’s most important rainforest ecosystem after the Amazon, but is under threat from logging, small scale agriculture and CO2 emissions. Tourism in the area takes in the river and rainforest, with wildlife spotting - but with over 3 million acres of forest - on which wildlife survival depends - lost each year, for how much longer?
It’s one of the world’s most popular honeymoon destinations - the ultimate romantic idyll - but if you dream of celebrating your nuptials in the Maldives, you might want to hope that your love will be more everlasting than these islands look likely to be. These coral islands, with their icing-sugar white beaches, are at risk of disappearing as global warming causes sea levels to rise.
These breathtaking ice landscapes of have diminished by around 85% in the last 50 years. Only 37 glaciers remain and experts warn that these will have disappeared by the end of the century - and that there is no possibility of them going into a regeneration phase. Tourists still flock to the Park in their millions each year, but the landscape they witness will continue to be drastically different from that which existed when it was designated a National Park in 1910.
Placed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2009, The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is under threat from oceans becoming warmer and more acidic, as well as from human activity and overfishing. Experts say that this reef may have disappeared in under a few decades - meaning that you’d best dive in now if you want to see it before it’s gone.
Not even its role in the eponymous DreamWorks film has been enough to save Madgascar from losing around 80% of its original forests. As the 4th largest island in the world, and one which has been distinct from other land masses for tens of millions of years, it has incredible biodiversity and a number of species utterly unique to it - but these are now reliant on an area of forest that covers a mere 12 percent of the country.
Impossibly blue waters, white sandy beaches and a slew of upmarket resorts - it’s exactly what idyllic vacations are made of, right? Mark it as high priority on your bucket list then, because The Seychelles’ coral reefs are dying and the beaches are eroding - and in fact, these paradise islands, located off Africa’s east coast, may have been completely submerged within the next 50 to one hundred years.
These vast mangrove forest stretches between the neighbouring nations of India and Bangladesh, providing the habitat of the majestic Bengal Tiger. Thanks to environmental changes, such as heavy rainfall and rising waters, the coastline is being eaten away at and islands being lost - putting the approximately 500-strong tiger population at risk of eventual (and not too distant) extinction.
It’s not that the Alps are disappearing, exactly - but hitting the pistes may become even more aspirational for future generations, with experts warning that snow cover in the Alps is likely to fall by a third over the course of the next 100 years - leaving the lower-lying slopes with little to no cover. The ski season could also be reduced by a month if global warming continues at its current pace.
Having stood for thousands of years, it’s extraordinary to think that Egypt’s ancient feats of engineering could possibly be under threat from modern civilisation - but pollution is wearing away at their limestone surfaces while, beneath the surface, sewage systems are weakening the very ground they tower upwards from.
Covering a mind-boggling expanse of 2.1 million square miles, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, which some of our planet’s most diverse species call home. Agricultural expansion - and, consequently, deforestation - is, however, slowly wearing away at it - in the last 20 years alone, it has had an area equivalent to roughly half of Texas slashed from it.
One of Costa Rica’s most treasured tourist attractions, Monteverde Cloud Forest is suffering the effects of climate change, with temperatures gradually creeping up and threatening the existence of its huge array of wildlife, some species of which are endemic to the area. Deforestisation has also caused the clouds from which the natural attraction takes its name to shrink, and to lie at a higher, less tree-shrouding level.
Beloved as one of Spain’s ‘pueblos blancos’ - white cities - Zahara de la Sierra, in Cadiz, occupies one of the most striking positions imaginable, high atop a craggy rock with views out towards a nearby reservoir. The verdant forestry with which the area is blanketed adds to its appeal - but rising temperatures and decreased rainfall is having an impact on its lushness and size.
It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site - but it’s also an endangered site. These mosques were constructed from mud in around the 14th-16th centuries but in recent years have suffered not only from increased temperatures, wind, rainfall and flooding, but also from terrorist attacks.
Visible from space, the subject of countless charity or personal-goal expeditions, this is the largest man-made structure in the world, some sections of which have endured for over 2,000 years. Erosion - due to both climate and human activity - has made it one of the world’s most endangered architectural sites, with experts warning that it could be in ruins in as little as 20 years.
The Lost City of the Incas lay undiscovered for almost 400 years, until 1911 - yet although it’s only been exposed to modern pressures for around a quarter of the time that it remained concealed, tourism is already having a deleterious effect on this remote kingdom. Around 300,000 people visit each year, and scientists are concerned that this erosive activity will ultimately result in a landslide, sending the huge granite blocks from which Machu Picchu is constructed hurtling down into the Urubamba River below.
Popular with hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, Finland’s forests are some of the most beautiful in the world: vast and remote, with landscape ranging from lakes and marshes to fells. A bit of bear or wolf spotting could also be on the agenda. But thanks to forestry and ditching, not only are these stunning wildernesses under threat; the species they play home to are as well - in fact, it is estimated that over 50% of Finnish wildlife is endangered.
Even if you prefer quaffing to exploring, this one is extremely sobering: climate change and soaring temperatures are affecting the growing conditions of our beloved grapes. Merlot and Bordeaux, in particular, could soon be a drink of the past, something we find only in the most exclusive cellars. Fast spreading wood decay disease and invasive pests which have been introduced via globalisation, are other concerning factors.
There are only about a dozen of these natural wonders in the entire world, and three of them are in Puerto Rico. Providing an otherworldly experience, bioluminescent microscopic organisms light up in the water when touched - a experience best enjoyed at night when the water and surrounds are dark. But visitors - and disaster-level weather patterns, like hurricanes - have on more than one occasion caused these bays to go dark. So far the bays have always recovered - but if future damage reaches a certain level, this may not be the case.
Beach erosion and frequent flooding aren’t just things that happen elsewhere, in far flung, exotic locations - they happen right here on our doorstep. North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a popular spot for vacationers, is being eaten away at by storms and erosion, with ‘absolute beachfront" properties constituting more of a flooding nightmare than a realtor’s dream. Even long-standing landmarks - like the 1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - are in danger.
The ice around the North Pole is shrinking, which raises the question of what will happen to Santa Claus and how on earth we’ll still get all of our Christmas presents. More pressingly: if trekking to the North Pole is on your bucket list, then you’d better start getting kitted up now, because satellite records show that more than a staggering two million kilometers of midwinter sea ice have vanished from the arctic in a period of less than 40 years.
As the temperatures continue to rise in this almost-untouched ice wilderness, huge chunks of ice are breaking off and melting - and, given that Antarctica holds 90% of the world’s ice, this rapid melting could have profound effects, not just on our ability to ever experience Antarctica itself, but also globally, with rising sea levels affecting other bucket-list destinations.