The American writer and expatriate Paul Bowles said, “whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another.” But what if as the traveler moves slowly over periods of years, the earth moves slowly too, shifting and changing due to rising sea levels, desertification, contaminants and pollution, and those parts of the earth that once existed –the glaciers, reefs, and ancient cities –slowly and incrementally disappeared.
It’s easy to take beautiful places for granted, but environmental changes, economic development, pollution, and mass tourism are affecting both the natural ecosystems and manmade attractions around the world. How much these destinations will change in 50 or 100 years or when they’ll disappear remains to be seen. However, if one has any chance of seeing these 8 places before they vanish, then moving slowly over periods of years isn’t an option.
8. Little Green Street, London
Located off Highgate Road in Kentish Town, Little Green Street is one of the few remaining 18th century Georgian streets in London. With eight two-story brick houses on one side and two on the other, the cobbled street is a quaint slice of Regency London, a photogenic, blink-and-you-miss-it alleyway tucked between massive council estates. Little Green Street survived the Blitz in World War II, but the inexorable march of gentrification is proving to be a more formidable enemy.
Developers seeking to build nearby can only access the plot through Little Green Street. The street is so narrow (2.5 m, 8 feet wide) that the backhoes and lorries won’t leave enough room for people to walk, and the machinery will be only inches away from the historic, bow-windowed homes. The houses are listed as “Grade II” and therefore won’t be knocked down, but the projected construction period, which is estimated to last four years, is guaranteed to tear up the street and severely affect the foundations of the 224-year old houses. Little Green Street has been celebrated in the poetry of British poet John Betjeman, and it was the inspiration for the 1966 song “Dead End Street” by The Kinks. The campaign to save Little Green Street has attracted actors, writers, and musicians.
7. Batoka Gorge Rapids, Victoria Falls: Zimbabwe
It’s believed the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone (“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”) was the first European to view Victoria Falls. And while the world-renown waterfall –the Smoke that Thunders -on the Zambezi River in southern Africa isn’t in danger of vanishing anytime soon, a white-water stretch of river known as the Batoka Gorge Rapids might not be as fortunate.
The International Rafting Federation rates Batoka Gorge as one of the world’s best-known stretches of white-water rapids. However, a proposed collaboration between Zimbabwe and Zambia to build a dam and hydroelectric station will not only flood the gorge and drown the rapids, but according to a 2012 report by International Rivers the project will also affect “normal” river functioning and impact communities downstream. Plans for the project were drawn up a decade ago and progress is stalled, but if the dam and hydroelectric station come to fruition, one of the attractions that made Victoria Falls such an adrenaline-charged destination will disappear.
6. Taj Mahal, India
Construction on India’s famous, white marble mausoleum began in 1632 and took 21 years to complete. Currently, tourism officials are considering closing the Taj Mahal to the public within 5 years. Extensive tourism and years of overcrowding have taken a toll on the 17th century landmark, causing widespread deterioration. More importantly, air pollution is eating away at the building’s exterior, and all the measures to protect the Taj Mahal’s universally admired façade have failed. While Agra’s nearby factories have been shuttered and India’s vehicle emissions reduced, air contamination has speckled the Taj Mahal with yellow stains. If tourism officials succeed in closing the UNESCO World Heritage Site, tourists will have to admire the building’s beautiful, 44 meter dome from afar.
5. The Dead Sea, Jordan
The Dead Sea is the earth’s lowest elevation, and it’s water is 10 times saltier than the ocean. In the past four decades, the world’s saltiest body of water has shrunk by a third and sunk 80 feet. Former seaside resorts and restaurants are now a mile from shore. Scientists have speculated the Dead Sea could disappear in less than 50 years. Political strife in the Middle East has blocked measures to stop the shrinking of the Dead Sea. Climate change has played a significant role in the sea’s decay.
Moreover, the Jordan River is the Dead Sea’s only source, and as surrounding countries have increasingly tapped its water, little volume is actually reaching its destination. In order to save the historic and biblical body of water, experts have called for strict conservation efforts including minimizing industrial and agricultural activities in the area, decreasing pollution sources, and increasing the volume of flow from the Jordan River.
4. Venice, Italy
Venice is sinking. The question is: how much longer can the “City of Bridges” stay above water? Known for its baroque architecture, winding alleys, piazzas, and canal palaces, Venice is an engineering marvel, as the entire city is built atop ancient posts driven into the barene (mud banks). While high tide has always been a challenge in the floating city, Venice has sunk nine inches in the past 100 years. The number is daunting, but more alarming, perhaps, is the severity and regularity of the floods; in 1900, St. Marks Square flooded 10 times, while in 2000 it flooded 60 times.
Rising sea levels are partly to blame for the increased number of floods in Venice. At the same time, Venice is considered the most romantic city in Europe, and its booming tourism industry also contributes to the acqua alta problem. In 2007, the city welcomed 21 million tourists, which is 40 times the size of its normal population. The sediment that Venice is built upon is not stable enough for all the extra weight, and the motors from the increased number of boats in the canals cause further structural damage to the city’s shifting foundation.
3. Glacier National Park, Montana
Located in Montana, on the Canada-United States border, Glacier National Park is often called the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem.” The park encompasses 1,000,000 acres and includes two mountain ranges, 712 lakes (only 131 are named), 200 waterfalls, and hundreds of species of mammals, birds, and plants. According to scientists, 100 years ago there were more than 15o glaciers strewn throughout the massive national park. In 2005, there were 27 glaciers. Global warming and the loss of ice threaten Glacier National Park, and some scientists predict that all the glaciers will disappear by 2030.
2. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef covers an area of 134,286 square miles, which is roughly the combined size of England, Holland and Switzerland. Consisting of over 3,000 individual reef systems and cays, it’s the world’s largest single structure made by living organisms; in fact, the reef is so large it can be seen from outer space. In 1981, the Great Barrier Reef was selected as a World Heritage Site.
Some accounts suggest the expected time remaining to see the Great Barrier Reef is less than 100 years. Rising water temperatures, pollution, ocean acidification, and cyclones are destroying the reef, causing massive coral bleaching. What will happen to the thirty species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises that have been recorded in the Great Barrier Reef once it has disappeared? It’s estimated that 60% of the world’s coral reefs will be gone by 2030.
1. The Galapagos Islands
Located 620 miles off the coat of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands inspired Charles Darwin to write On the Origin of Species. Nearly 9,000 species call the volcanic islands and the surrounding waters home, and many of them can’t be found anywhere else on earth (marine iguanas, giant tortoises). However, the Galapagos Islands were on the World Heritage Site Danger List from 2007 to 2010.
Since 2008, tourism has increased 12% per year and threatens the Galapagos Island’s ecosystem. Invasive species like pigs and goats have been smuggled to the islands by workers, and they now compete with the local wildlife for food. Rats have come ashore from docked cruise ships and spread disease. Hotels, restaurants, and an increasing number of motor vehicles are altering the landscape of this once isolated archipelago. Mass tourism and overuse have spawned a wide range of environmental threats. With 100,000 people annually descending on the Galapagos Islands, stricter limitations and travel restrictions are sure to follow.