By Nick Marshall
Those about to plan a once-in-a-lifetime adventure trip or honeymoon could be forgiven for thinking that no option should be off the table. However, fast forward just a few decades, and some of today’s most popular destinations could literally be out of consideration. Where the following eight places are concerned, sooner rather than later is the time to visit.
Glacier National Park
Hikers, campers and outdoors enthusiasts head to Montana’s Glacier National Park for one million acres of lakes, peaks and meadows, much of it visible from the cliff-edge-hugging Going-to-the-Sun Road at 7,000 feet. Not for long, perhaps. The park, which was established in 1910 and nurtures one of the largest ecosystems in North America, has witnessed a drastic change in its landscape. Of the original 150 glaciers recorded in 1850, only 27 remain, and some experts suggest there won’t be any by 2030.
Glaciers aren’t faring any better in the European Alps, the winter sports playground for 80 million skiers and snowboarders from all over the continent each year. In short, the Alpine ski resorts are losing their snow, with barely half the Alpine glacial ice compared to the 1850s. Even since the 1980s, one fifth of the ice has disappeared, and the worst predictions point to two thirds of ski resorts gone by 2100. In the meantime, attempts to mitigate the growth of barren stretches of rock where powder snow once lay come in the shape of snow canon and snow blankets.
A lack of snow in Africa could be seen as less of a crisis, but when the location in question is the previously snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro, the continent’s highest peak, the transformation comes as a symbolic blow. As much as 17 feet of ice has disappeared from the summit since the turn of the new millennium, and the mythical snows could be gone entirely by 2030.
Overall, global sea levels have risen by eight inches since 1870. Few places feel the rise more acutely than the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean. Not only has the stunningly beautiful tropical island chain suffered the world’s worst coral-reef extinction, but authorities have also been forced to place granite boulders on previously idyllic beaches to temper rising sea levels. Some argue that the problem is not so much the sea levels rising as the land itself sinking through erosion. Either way, in a country where 80 percent of the population lives on the coast and where the capital itself is on reclaimed land, the possibility of a Seychelles-free world could be less than a century away.
The 1,100 islands of the Maldives are suffering a similar fate. Already, the island paradise is the world’s lowest-lying nation, at an average of barely five feet above sea level. A three-foot rise in sea levels, as predicted by 2100, would submerge the island. Although the president has requested international aid in relocating the country’s 350,000 inhabitants, there has been no let-up in construction of exclusive luxury resorts for those ready to book their dream vacation.
Ever since it was built on land reclaimed from the marshes 1,200 years ago, Venice has always suffered from flooding, or Acqua Alta as it is referred to by weary locals. However, the problem is now so bad that the World Monuments Fund has placed the distinctive Italian city on its list of destinations under threat. Rising tides and sinking foundations are to blame. The land on which the city’s Renaissance architecture teeters has subsided by nine inches in a century, while the tide level from the Adriatic Sea has risen by three inches. Luckily, authorities have restricted the pernicious access off giant cruise ships, which offload two million passengers a year. However, unless plans to reclaim the salt marshes and build a flood barrier succeed, St. Mark’s Square could be underwater in 70 years.
Great Barrier Reef
It would be rather hypocritical to snipe about pollution at the same time as demanding greater travel access to more destinations at increasingly competitive prices, but the effects are hard to avoid. The biggest victim could be the world’s largest barrier reef, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. One of the seven wonders of the natural world, the reef is still top of most scuba divers’ bucket lists for its abundant sea life and biodiversity. However, coral cover has already halved since 1985, and the most pessimistic estimates warn that damage from carbon dioxide levels in the ocean and rising sea temperatures will have caused irreversible damage by 2030. In a hundred years, the reef could be an underwater wasteland.
Even monuments are not exempt from environmental damage. India’s top tourist attraction, the Taj Mahal in Agra, has taken the breath away for more than 350 years. However, the distinctive white marble exterior is slowly turning yellow, and the plummeting water levels on the neighboring Yamuna River have weakened the foundations. Already, tombs in Shah Jahan’s 17th century mausoleum have started to crack and the minarets are tilting. Without rapid and effective action, the entire structure could collapse, as early as 2016 according to some analysts.
Stand in front of the pyramids at Giza, for example, and you could rightly assume that the world’s most inspirational landmarks will inevitably endure. The sober reality, though, is that travelers have limited time in some cases to see first-hand certain landmarks that are typically taken for granted.