10 Natural Wonders to See Before They Disappear
When Malta’s Azure Window collapsed into the sea in 2017, it was a serious reality check: sadly, not all of our natural wonders will be around forever. Glaciers are melting from global warming, sea levels are rising, pollution is killing the reefs—it's a sick cycle. From the Dead Sea to Mount Kilimanjaro, these are the sights to see before they disappear.
Chelsea is Brooklyn-based travel writer, editor, and photographer. When not home eating her way through NYC, she's gallivanting across the globe, sailing the coast of Croatia or hiking the peaks of Peru. Her superpowers include booking flight deals and sleeping in small plane seats.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
This legendary 1,200-mile ecosystem along Australia’s Queensland coast is one of the world's most renowned wonders. But global warming (yes, it’s real!) has caused higher ocean temperatures and an increase in acidic water, which has bleached and killed 93 percent of the reef. And with the jumps in carbon dioxide, half of the reef’s coral cover has been lost in the last 25 years. All this, plus the pollution from industrial port development and harmful fishing practices is why conservationists are predicting the Great Barrier Reef will no longer exist by 2030.
How to Help: Choose sustainable seafood, wear reef-safe sunscreen, donate to organizations like The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and go see it for yourself—visitors pay environmental management charges through tourism operations that help to monitor and manage the reef.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Alpine meadows, icy lakes, and rugged wilderness—it’s not hard to see why this national park in Montana is one of America’s most revered. But, the landscape is quickly changing, as the number of active glaciers has decreased from 150 to just 25, and scientists are predicting that the remaining few in the park’s main basin will be gone in the next 15 years. So go now to enjoy the 700 miles of trails and the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road.
How to Help: A donation to Friends of Glacier supports general conservation efforts for the park, while a monetary gift to the Trail Keepers Society specifically goes toward the preservation of Glacier National Park's beautiful trails.
The Dead Sea, Israel
On the border between Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea is 10 times saltier than the ocean—making it a prime attraction for people who come to float in its therapeutic water. But the seaside hotels built in the '80s now sit a mile out from the water’s edge. In the past 40 years, it’s lost a third of its surface area and dropped 80 feet—that’s a whopping 2 billion gallons per year! The irreversible damage is due to mineral mining and cosmetic companies that drain the sea of its rich resources. Perhaps the worst part is the 3,000+ sinkholes that have opened along the shoreline, leaving 80-foot craters in their wake.
How to Help: EcoPeace Middle East develops scientific research and policy briefs on the stabilization of the Dead Sea; a donation to the organization supports its goal to create a comprehensive regional development plan.
It seems like everything should be perfect in this tropical paradise. Luxurious overwater bungalows hover over crystal-clear turquoise waters brimming with tropical fish. Yet looks can be deceiving. More than 80 percent of the islands sit no more than three feet above sea level, putting them at great risk of disappearing as the ocean rises and threatens to submerge the lowest country on Earth. And even though the country’s president has promised to eliminate fossil fuel, invest in wind and solar plants, and make the archipelago carbon neutral by 2020, it may be too late. The government has already bought land in neighboring nations to relocate the 380,000 citizens who would be displaced by climate change.
How to Help: Support the United Nations Development Programme in the Maldives, which works to increase the nation's resilience to climate change and disasters.
Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Just two hours outside of LA, Joshua Tree National Park is one of California’s best getaways for outdoorsy types. But the eponymous desert plants that fill the landscape are suffering from climate change and the drought that’s plagued the state for the past few years. The Mojave Desert typically averages 5 inches of rainfall, but in the past few years that has dropped to under one inch of precipitation, which is so low the trees can’t reproduce. And if that’s the case, this arid expanse will need a new title.
How to Help: Take action to reduce your own environmental impact, give to organizations like 350 or the Environmental Defense Fund to fight climate change, and support Joshua Tree National Park Association to promote park programming and awareness.
Off Africa’s east coast, Madagascar is one of the most diverse islands on the planet. More than 80 percent of its flora and fauna—including its adorable, endemic lemurs—can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The ecosystem is so vast that many of its unique species have never even been recorded, and may never be because of recurring fires, poaching, and mass deforestation, which has whittled the landscape down to just 10 percent of its original size (from 120,000 square miles to a measly 20,000). How much time is left for the rainforests and wildlife? Only 35 years.
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
This legendary mountain—the ultimate challenge for climbers—may soon be nothing but an epic story to tell. Its ice cap has been steadily melting, exposing the dark soil underneath, which then absorbs more heat causing the snow to melt faster—an ongoing cycle. Indeed, it’s receding so quickly that 85 percent of the ice is already gone. And though these glaciers have been around for at least 10,000 years, scientists predict they'll be gone in the next 15 years.
How to Help: Support the area by embarking on a GIVE Tanzania trip, where you'll partake in volunteer opportunities (building schools, teaching English, and working with a women's co-op) while experiencing the country's culture, wildlife, and adventure activities (including an optional Kilimanjaro hiking tour).
The Poles: Antarctica and the Arctic
You know those environmental awareness commercials of the cute polar bears? Well, we hate to break it to you, but they’re not just sob stories. The animals are bordering on extinction as arctic ice melting will eventually leave the north pole bare. Meanwhile on the south pole, Antarctica has 40 percent less sea ice, and in the next 20 to 40 years, none will form at all, devastating wildlife like whales, seals, and penguins—all of which have already declined by 70 percent.
How to Help: The Save our Sea Ice Campaign from Polar Bears International details how you can take individual action as well as challenge your community to reduce greenhouse gases and energy consumption.
Sundarbans Mangroves, India
Bordering Bangladesh and India, the Sundarbans Mangroves is a 4,000-square-mile stretch of wetlands in the Bay of Bengal. Here, you’ll find rare tigers, saltwater crocodiles, and even tree-climbing fish (no joke!). But pollution, deforestation, and overfishing has caused eroding coastlines, which is sadly killing off the mangroves. UNESCO estimates that by the end of the 21st century, 75 percent will be lost.
How to Help: The Sundarbans delta is a priority region for WWF India; a donation to the organization helps with biodiversity conservation and adaptation to climate change.
The Congo Basin, Africa
Everyone knows of the almighty Amazon, but the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest rainforest, is at serious risk. Ten million acres are lost every year due to illegal logging, farming, and civil warfare. In addition, the region's paved roads provide easy access for poachers to reach and kill endangered mountain gorillas, okapis, bonobos, and forest elephants. Unless action is taken now, up to two thirds of the forest could be lost by 2040.
How to Help: Give the gift of a virtual gorilla adoption—the WWF program protects the animals from environmental and poaching threats through conservation programs.
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