Places to See Before They Disappear
Endangered travel destinations around the world
by Elizabeth Olson
Many of the world's most wondrous and beautiful destinations are in danger of being destroyed by a combination of environmental and social factors: a warming climate, pollution, strained resources, bulging populations, and booming tourist traffic. Below are some popular locations worth visiting before they disappear.
Glaciers, Glacier National Park
United States and Canada
Glacier National Park contains some of the most beautiful, primitive wilderness in the Rocky Mountains. There are more than 200 glacier-fed lakes, high peaks, sheer precipices, large forests, waterfalls, much wildlife, and a great variety of wildflowers. However, temperature fluctuations have caused glacier growth and depletion. Ten thousand years ago, the area of Glacier National Park was covered by ice up to one mile below sea level. The latest warm period has caused the number of glaciers to decrease from 150 in 1850 to 26 today. If current global warming trends continue, there will be no glaciers left in Glacier National Park by 2030.
With as many as 40 floods per year between March and September, Venice is slowly sinking at an estimated rate of 2.5 inches every 10 ten years. Venice, a city of beauty and charm, was built as a collection of 118 separate islands, relying entirely on a canal system of about 150 canals, mostly very narrow, crossed by some 400 bridges. A severe flood in December 2008 brought renewed attention to Venice's vulnerable state and imminent fate as an underwater city.
The Dead Sea
Border between Israel and the West Bank (W) and Jordan (E)
Known as one of the saltiest water bodies in the world and the lowest dry point on earth, the Dead Sea is fed by the Jordan River and a number of small streams. Because it is located in a very hot and dry region, the Dead Sea loses much water through evaporation, causing its level to fluctuate during the year. However, inflow to the Dead Sea has been greatly reduced by the increased use of the Jordan River by Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians, who have growing populations and increased agricultural needs, resulting in falling water levels. Currently, the Dead Sea recedes about three feet each year.
Mexico City, Mexico
In the past 100 years, Mexico City has sunk more than 30 feet. The original city was built on the site of a former lake—the Aztecs built the city on a series of aquatic platforms, but when the Spanish conquered the city, they drained the lake, causing it to sink. As the city population ballooned and the demand for water increased in the 20th century, the government began pumping much of the city's supply out of the underground aquifer that once fed the lake, causing the city to sink further. No practical plan has been made for the future to provide the 22 million inhabitants of Mexico City with the water they need without destroying the city.
Agra, Uttar Pradesh state, India
A mausoleum in northern India on the Yamuna River, the Taj Mahal is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and the finest example of the late style of Indian Islamic architecture. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan ordered it built after the death of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The building, which was completed between 1632 and 1638, is visited by three to four million tourists each year. The crowds and air pollution, however, have caused irreversible damage to the building's façade, prompting tourism officials to consider closing the historic site to the public.
Pyramids of Giza
One of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pyramids of Giza, located outside modern Cairo, consist of three magnificent royal tombs guarded by a Sphinx. The Pyramids have been a heavily trafficked sightseeing area for centuries, but the pollution and magnitude of visitors has taken its toll on the ancient structures, which are not protected by Egyptian officials. Although camel and horseback tours are now banned from the site, the structures are still difficult to see through the crowds and vendors.
Little Green Street
London, United Kingdom
Located in the center of London, Little Green Street, is one of only a few surviving streets from Georgian England. Lined with about a dozen 18th century homes, Little Green Street only stretches a city block in length, but has survived the Blitz in World War II and three centuries of construction. As a perfect example of Regency London, it has been featured in poetry, photo shoots, and music videos, but today it is threatened by construction. Although an attempt to acquire the property failed in 2008, developers' appeals continue, and the threat of Little Green Street's destruction looms ahead.
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