Technically we are all in places that are about to change drastically. There are many remote idyllic, places being threatened by climate change that face melting glaciers or catastrophic flooding. But then so does Miami. Whether it’s rising sea levels, desertification, torrential monsoons, melting glaciers or ocean acidification, climate change is rapidly altering the landscape of our planet and perhaps about to destroy some of the world’s legendary vacation spots. Then there is the traditional destruction inflicted by human error and downright imbecility. More hotel rooms, spas and golf courses are part of the inherent contradictions of tourism increasing accessibility means increasing degradation. There seems to be no solution to that equation. We will be one of the last generations to see some of the Earth’s most cherished places. Here’s our list of 20 places to see before they vanish to climate change, over development and encroachment. It’s a survey of various sources from CNN to MNN (as in Mother Nature Network), at the same time being quite conscious of the other contradiction that advising more people to visit already vulnerable sites is farther contributing to the degradation. Perhaps you can solve that moral quandary by designing am environmentally sensitive visit. Or contribute to conservancy groups that are fighting to save them.
20. Gozo, Malta
CNN has this theory that once a foreign city is featured in a blockbuster movie, it takes a hit from an influx of curious tourists. Gozo, population 37,000 is a short ferry ride from Malta. Its website proudly proclaims its natural beauty, its “tortoise-like pace” and amazing history. Gozo means ‘joy’ in Castilian, so named at its founding in 1282. Last year Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt shot their latest film “By the Sea” there. Directed by Jolie, it appears to be a drama about an artistic couple’s fading marriage with Gozo subbing for France. CNN warns that “There are few better advertisements for a destination than a good movie,” and expects hordes of Brangelina fans to disturb the tranquility in search of the places the couple tried to rekindle their romance.
19. St. Kitts
With its neighbor and sidekick Nevis known as the decadent playground of the idle rich, St. Kitts is passing under the spell of the Evil Trinity of tourism; Big name hotel chains, golf course designers and marina builders. It is being done in the name of sustainability which may be easier to do environmentally that in preserving the spirit of a place heading to over development. When they open the world’s first edible golf course, you know the gimmicks have just begun.
18. The Seychelles
National Geographic rates the beach at Anse Source d’Argent as the best in the world. One of nature’s most convincing versions of paradise. The beauty of the pink sand, the coral reef sheltered by massive granite boulders brings many beach lovers to this archipelago of more than a hundred islands in the Indian Ocean but the water rises relentlessly, the perfect beaches are eroding and its coral reef, like others around the world is being degraded. Barring some miraculous engineering innovation or divine intervention, many of the islands could be lost in the next 50 years.
17. The Athabasca Glacier, Canada
With its relatively convenient location in mid-Alberta between Banff and Jasper National Parks, The Athabasca Glacier attracts more tourists than any other on the continent. It is also the largest ice field between the poles. It’s a kind of frozen tributary of the massive Columbia Ice Fields. But with ice fields north of 90, as old hands call the Arctic, the Athabasca at 52 degrees north latitude is in for The Big Melt. Parks Canada estimates it’s receding up to ten feet a year. At this rate maybe too far gone for the next generation to experience.
16. St. Helena
In its own way, St. Helena is an exotic destination. A volcanic speck of 50 square miles in the middle of the south Atlantic, it is the definition of remote, 4,000 miles east of Rio de Janeiro. Let’s face it, after Waterloo, the British were not about to exile Napoleon in Paradise. Part of its cache is that getting there is a challenge, by the Royal Mail ship St. Helena from Cape Town, Walvis Bay or Ascension Island. It’s somewhat for bird watching and its rugged terrain protects well preserved Georgian buildings. After Longwood, Napoleon’s home after 1815 (now a museum), the island’s biggest celebrity draw is Jonathon the tortoise, age 180 and going strong. The British have sunk the better part of half a billion dollars into an airport for the tiny island to open early in 2016. For that chunk of change, expect more than the usual 3,000 or so visitors soon.
15. Taj Mahal, India
Even the great frescoes of the Sistine Chapel dulled with age and the emission from centuries of candle smoke and neglect. But they were inside the walls of a building in the First World, whereas the Taj Mahal is neither. The whole point of the spectacular tribute to an Emperor’s late wife, is its pristine whiteness indicative of the purity of their love. But the air quality in India’s major cities is worse than the horrific pollution levels of Beijing. Fading to yellow or rust is not just a cosmetic downgrade it degrades its very meaning. An ornate mausoleum of white marble, The Taj Mahal is the sparkling jewel of Muslim art in India. Built in the 17th century by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his favorite wife, The Taj currently has more than 3 million visitors a year and the heat, foot traffic and toxic air are beginning to undermine the building’s structural integrity. It’s not hard to see a lengthy shutdown for restoration in the near future, not to mention banning people from going inside.
14. Dead Sea
There is the old joke that someone says he’s so old he remembers when the Dead Sea was only sick. Sadly that’s no longer just a joke. It is being sucked dry by the water-desperate countries around it who are helping themselves to the water in the River Jordan, the sea’s main source. It has shrunk by a third in size and scientists fear if the rate of attrition continues, the intensely salted water some claim has medicinal qualities, has maybe 50 years of life left.
13. The Galapagos Islands
Truth be told Europeans have been abusing the Galapagos since the late 19th century when pirates used it as a base to launch their raids. Darwin didn’t arrive until 1835 to begin on what would become The Origin of the Species 25 years later. Now there are pages of tours echoing the name of his ship The Beagle. The islands are threatened by too many people. Too many insensitive people acting reprehensibly to degrade this natural treasure to take the greatest selfies and poach plants and animals (not necessarily at the same time.) The prognosis is much better than many other sites however because the ecosystem, while delicate, can still be saved by limiting if not stopping altogether, the onslaught of tourists. So if it’s on your bucket list…tread lightly.
12. Glacier National Park Montana
In fact, anything with the word “Glacier’ in its name or title may be at risk, barring some miraculous reversal in climate change, the effects are well documented. They are living on borrowed time, the more temperate the climate the more critical the patient. The number of glaciers in the stunningly beautiful Glacier National Park on the Montana-Canada border has shrunk by 75% in the last century. Pessimistic estimates say the glaciers and the ecosystem that depends on them could be gone by 2030. The good news if you’re into dark humor; the surfing in Montana is about to improve dramatically.
11. South Australia
One of those areas facing the climate change double whammy, coastal flooding and interior desertification the Australian government has studied and published many daunting studies on the effects. Rising sea levels will threaten hundreds of miles of beaches and the lovely city of Adelaide will be put at risk. The soaring temperatures and absence of rain in the interior will challenge some of the most renowned wine growing regions in the world, including the Barossa and Clare Valleys. While the region accounts for only 7% of Australia’s population, it is also responsible for half of the $1.3 billion in wine exports. Unless you are entertained somehow by catastrophic flooding and drought, best to go soon.
10. Greek Islands
There are 6,000 islands from Aegina to Zaforas in the Ionian and Aegean seas off the Greek coast. Only 227 are inhabited and only 50 have airports. Traveling between them has always been a question of taking leisurely ferries with shall we say occasionally regular schedules. Until now after a Greek airline has announced to connect another 100 by seaplane. As always accessibility is a mixed blessing. The islands of Crete, Skyros and Pelion are first on the list with more to come as early as year’s end. Book accordingly. Unless you like crowded beaches, then this is your lucky year.
9. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia
The famous falls are twice the height of Niagara with a fraction of the tourists. At least until the new Victoria Falls International Airport, on the Zimbabwe/Zambia, border opens in the fall of 2015. It’s being built to handle what pilots call “Heavy Metal”, wide body A340’s and Boeing 777’s and their human cargo. It will be a huge boost for the tourism sector in the long-suffering country. The five regional airlines that used the old airport will be joined by British British Airways, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Emirates, and Kenya Airways, just to start.
8. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Caribbean
An idyllic place. Everything you wish for in a Caribbean destination. And less, without the crowds, partiers and such. Beaches rank among the best in the world, coral reefs provide diving that’s to die for, it’s care free relaxation in a setting almost too beautiful to be true. But it’s always been a bit of a schlep to get there by connecting flight. The new $250,000,000 Argyle International Airport , will come with direct flights to North American and European cities increasing capacity by at least 400%. Plus it is upgrading its port infrastructure to bring in more cruise ships whose environmental record has been somewhere between bad and wretched. The good news for would-be visitors is that the airport is behind schedule for those who would like to have the island experience before it gets paved and up go the condos.
Lake Nicaragua is a scenic, unspoiled place with coastal towns lost to time and lots of fishing spots locals love. It has been fast-tracked to the environmental critical list by a crazy ambitious $50 billion Chinese-backed project to build a canal three times the length of the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea and hence the Atlantic, in the process trampling through prized lakes, wetlands, coral reefs and any number of delicate ecosystems in Central America and the Caribbean. The Nicaraguan Academy of Sciences warns “this canal would create an environmental disaster in Nicaragua and beyond. Tourist visits have soared since the construction started.
6. Papua New Guinea
There is an automatic exoticism to the south Pacific and in the case of Papua New Guinea, it’s enhanced by its status as one of the last truly unexplored places on earth. The government has expressed a “wish” to maintain the rarely seen villages as the basis for its society. It’s a nice gesture, but at the same time they’re expanding the almost non-existent tourism infrastructure starting with cruise ships and with them a fading chance to experience a land not far removed from first contact.
5. The Alps, Europe
The mighty Alps are facing an uphill battle they can’t win. The evidence is incremental but unmistakable. The temperature, even on peaks over 10,000 feet has been steadily rising. The elevation at which snow falls and accumulates is falling. Towns and cities dependent on skiing for their livelihoods are taking strong measures to lower local CO2 emissions, but climate change scientists say the effects of climate change could hit hard by 2040. So maybe the problem will be solved by then, it still leaves you at least 25 years to book, but after that forget the skies and take hiking boots and sunblock.
4. Venice, Italy
Like the famous writer Mark Twain, reports of the death of Venice have been greatly exaggerated. The magical kingdom of canals and Renaissance masterpieces has been written off many times before. But the severe flooding it has long suffered has become deeper and more chronic. When you can stop on your way to St. Mark’s and, bend down and catch fish with your bare hands, the fat lady may not be singing but is definitely warming up. The prognosis: the only people to see Venice past the 22nd century are likely scuba divers and snorkelers. However, the city has miraculously hung tough before. It may not be clear just how just yet, but surely no expense will be spared to save one of the greatest treasures on the planet.
3. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Another long running natural disaster that could have been easily mitigated by sustainable practices. The fabulous reef has been assaulted not only by climate change but by human stupidity. Higher water temperatures and its older foes of pollution and acidification from ever rising carbon dioxide emissions are killing off the corals at an alarming rate. More recent threats are damage caused by the development of Australian ports to export coal to China, thereby contributing to more CO2, hence more damage to the reef and its $4 billion in tourist income. A whole new enemy has emerged as well in industrial overfishing which doesn’t directly damage reefs around the world, but destroys the fish stocks that are part of its ecosystem. The wonderful reef in Belize is facing the same threat of death by coral bleaching.
Oh the irony. According to CNN, the son of Che Guevara, the iconic Marxist guerrilla leader, has turned out to be quite the entrepreneur, launching a motorcycle tour company for the biking crowd to see the island from behind their choppers. With the easing of American travel restrictions, the fabric of the island is in for rapid change for the less impoverished though not necessarily better. Not to revel in other’s poverty but the anachronism of the island frozen in a time warp by antiquated Communist central planning was part of the charm, like the famous 1950’s vintage vehicles constantly repaired and rebuilt out of economic necessity. The wonderful beaches are already popular and if there are bikers, the massive cruise ships won’t be far behind. Hemingway’s Havana is already on borrowed time.
Expect to see more headlines like this one from the BBC: “Should tourists be banned from Antarctica?” It’s feared that Antarctica is shedding up to 160 billion tons of ice annually and rising. The biggest threat to the ice cap is warming temperatures, not humans. Less than 40,000 people visit every year and only a quarter of them actually go ashore. Tour companies abide by strict international guidelines to limit human impact but those guidelines are voluntary. That human impact may be minimal, but any additional pressure on an increasingly vulnerable ecosystem is critical. There will be many more calls for restrictions to follow the BBC’s warnings. It won’t disappear in a century but trips to see it may be extinct long before.