UNESCO’s Endangered Sites to Discover

Covid-19 gave some of us the itching urge to discover the world. Can you imagine those beautiful places: white-sanded beaches, luxuriant green forests, warm and full of life savannas? Seeing these incredible spots once again could become urgent. As today, what we always knew has never been more true: the Earth is not suffering, she is dying.

As simple human beings, we don’t think we can have any impact on our planet’s future, or at least not as much as the greatest firms in the world. Human activity in general can have an impact on the planet, endangering more unique spots, which are treasures for the eye. Some of them, caused only by the rising waters of the oceans, could disappear in the next years. We should be able to discover these amazing places before it’s too late, maybe to take actions to protect them, like the UNESCO organization, within our capacities as citizens of the world.

Europe

Ilulissat Icefjord

Ilulissat Icefjord
Credit: Weekend Levif

There only are a few remote places in the world where climatic changes can be visible to the bare eye. And one of these places is in Greenland, near Ilulissat, where stands the fastest moving iceberg in the northern hemisphere: the Ilulissat Icefjord. Located in Disko Bay, the Ilulissat Icefjord is 40km long. Every year, 46 cubic kilometers of ice (the equivalent of the annual USA’s water needs) detach from the fjord. How is this impressively worrying? Well, we must not forget that the size of an iceberg is three times bigger than we think it is. The visible part of it represents only a third of the whole iceberg. In order to melt, they should move to the Brittany latitude, but because of their size, they’re captives of Ilulissat icefjord. And still, they’re melting.

85 metric tons of ice from Ilulissat icefjord fell into the ocean…every day. Scientists affirm that if this melting rhythm continues, the sea level will rise by more than one meter in 2100 (this could represent the constant inundation of Venice). Also, climatic changes brought quite surprising effects on the social organization of Ilulissat. Could you imagine cultivating tomatoes in Greenland? Of course not. Well, since 2016, as the summer’s climate of Ilulissat went from polar to subarctic, it is now possible.

Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc
Credit : Pixabay

Bienvenue en France ! Located in the Val d’Aoste, Mont Blanc is nicknamed “Europe’s Giant”. Still, this giant can be visited by many tourists. Its easiest hike is the “Mer de Glace” (Ice Sea) glacier. This hike became so popular that by the end of the 19th century, a railroad was built. Today, it transports 12 000 tourists per year to the glacier. But as more and more visitors arrive, since 2000, Europe’s giant suffers from a strong fever.

The ambient temperature of the alpine mountains rose, higher than anywhere else on the globe. It is to believe that, in the future, winter’s temperatures will gain 3 to 4 degrees, generating a reduction of snow cover, while summer’s temperatures will gain 6 to 8 degrees. This could cause the disappearance of various fauna and flora species. With the recoil of the Mer de Glace glacier, the permafrost melting could increase risks of crumbling. Most parts of the Mont Blanc, once covered in white snow, are now grey and rocky.

Venice

Venice Bay
Credit: Pixabay

One of the most romantic destinations in the world. Founded in the 5th century and against all odds of nature, Venice has the shape of a crescent moon, crossed by the Grand Canal and surrounded by 118 islets. Its beauty is so unique in the world that no description is enough to testify to her charms.

In 2016, a popular demonstration saw the rising of 300 flags around Venice’s districts to prove that “Venice has a future”. This event led to the creation of a new agreement from Italian authorities, giving the city a 460 million euro budget for the conservation of Venice and its lagoon. The city has several problems to deal with; among them, the non-stop stream of luxury cruise ships which, when they enter the lagoon, destroy some of Venice’s architecture. Every year, Venice welcomes 30 million tourists, while its capacity is only 10 million. Some resident houses are transformed into tourist habitations and souvenir boutiques are preferred to traditional tourist activities. The Carnival of Venice, gondola tours or even the discovery of the small islands surrounding the city have never been less popular.

Mass tourism threatens the structures of Venice. With more than 435 bridges, churches and palaces made of pietra d’Istria (a form of crystalized limestone), Venice had, during the last century, sunk by 25 centimeters due to rising waters and soil exploitation. Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), one of the most famous places in the world, is now less than one meter above the sea level.

Africa

Lake Turkana

Lake Turkana in East Africa
Credit: The Explorations Company

This Ethiopian-Kenyan lake almost looks like a mirage because of its jade color. For those who dare to do the long trip to this lake, survival is a real obstacle. Temperatures are scorching and if rain happens to fall, drops will evaporate before reaching the lake.

The banks of the lake look more like an apocalyptic landscape than the cradle of Humanity. Volcanos and lava plains punctuate its horizon. Only acacias and a few palm trees compose the flora of this strange area. The local fauna is more flourishing, including Nile crocodiles, flamingoes and gigantic Nile perches. The banks of the lake are inhabited by several tribes. Samburu, Turkana, Gabbra and Borana peoples live in Elmolo tribe today.

For the last 20 years, climatic changes have provoked strong dryness and a decrease of the lake’s water for 8 meters. And, in 2015, the achievement of dam Gibe III, built in Ethiopia on the river Omo, put the tribes of Lake Turkana in a catastrophic situation. This dam could drastically reduce the tribes’ food resources.

Mount Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro
Credit: Pixabay

Located in Tanzania, Kilimanjaro is one of the most famous mountains in the world. The name of this stratovolcano means, in Swahili, “the shining mountain”. Authors like Ernest Hemingway described it as the perfect mountain. Its climate is very singular, combining five climatic zones. You can go from equatorial forests populated by leopards and elephants, to alpine mountains.

But according to NASA, Kilimanjaro has lost 85% of its glaciers, which could totally disappear around 2030. The lack of precipitation is the main reason of glaciers’ melting. Kilimanjaro’s region has known strong periods of dryness, resulting from climatic changes and deforestation.

The disappearance of Kilimanjaro’s snow is an economic issue for the Tanzanian government, representing half of tourism recipes. But tourism is also a threat to Kilimanjaro as it has become since its first ascent in 1889, the “Everest of Mr. Average”, with more than 25 000 alpinists coming every year. And sometimes, these alpinists don’t respect the mountain environment, leaving trash behind them. Cleaning services of the Marangu road have already collected 15 tons of trash.

Giza Pyramid Complex

Giza's Pyramid Complex
Credit: Pixabay

The Great Pyramid and the mystery of the Sphinx’s face are symbols of the mythical Ancient Egypt. But the desert surrounding the pyramids is a myth. Behind them rises the modern city of Giza, with tall buildings and public parks. Giza’s plateau is home to the pyramid complex, including the Sphinx, and to a 4 million habitants city.

A coexistence between a modern city, which generates great pollution, and the antic Pharaohs’ tombs seems like a very sensitive, almost impossible, project. Once protected by a thick sand coat, the modernization of Giza made these relics extremely vulnerable. The effects of pollution covered the pyramids with dirt. Once covered in white stucco, the pyramids and the Sphinx have never been dirtier. These wonders of the world deserve more respect. The Pyramids inspired European scientists to discover the vestiges of Egypt and were the main reason for Egyptology’s creation.

Even though political issues and the growing threat of terrorism are serious topics, it gives the Egyptian government a break from mass tourism. A solution to establish a restauration policy on the Giza plateau is in progress.

Asia

Maldives Archipelago

Maldives
Credit: Pixabay

Located in the Indian Ocean, this little paradise is famous for the brightness of its waters and the whiteness of its sand. The Maldives Archipelago welcomes every year half a million tourists in its 26 atolls, looking like a paradise you never want to leave. The only memories tourists take back with them are swimming in translucid lagoons with magnificent manta rays before coming back to their luxurious hotel room. In the Maldives, you have the choice between luxury and wildlife. But today, the wilderness of Maldives has almost disappeared. In the 20th century, the Minikoy atoll had the reputation for appearing and disappearing with the tide. Today, it is a warning signal instead of a funny scientist’s fact.

The elevation of sea level due to global warming is a real threat to the locals. For the past years, ten islands, lacking freshwater resources, have been abandoned. The worst thing is that Maldives’ beauty can’t be discredited. Drowned islands are just, for tourists, beautiful uninhabited lands. The government tries to find solutions without impacting the tourism industry. But new hotels are a priority, while paradise still exists.

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China
Credit: Pixabay

Located in Badaling, near Beijing, the Great Wall of China is a colossal building, maybe the biggest that ever existed. Built in the 5th century to avoid Mongolian and Manchurian invasions, most of the work took place during the Ming dynasty. Made of 3 different types of stone and 6 300 km long, the Great Wall has survived several attacks in history. First by the Huns, then by the Japanese during World War II, and then with Mao Zedong’s policy to create farms with bricks from the Wall. But the most serious kind of attack the Great Wall has to face today is the market invasion.

Millions of tourists who come to visit the Great Wall each year provoke a certain form of degradation. There are too many tourists on the Great Wall, but only in few places. The most adventurous tourists who try to explore abandoned spots on the wall risk their lives, as the non-maintenance of the wall generates crumbling. But the worst case of degradation happened on the other side of the Wall. The Mongolian government demolished a segment of the Wall to create a highway between two countries, which were enemies once.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea
Credit: Routard

A spa called Ein Gedi is very popular in Israel. It has 6 pools with extraordinary therapeutical effects. Leaving the spa to join the beach by foot was possible few years ago. Now, you must take a shuttle to join the famous Dead Sea. Here, you can be 88 years old and feel like a youngster, ready to conquer the world, as the air contains more oxygen than anywhere else in the world. You can find on the beach huge containers of mud. After covering your body with it, you should lay on the sand, waiting for the mud to dry. Then, you can jump in the Dead Sea to clean yourself. Its water is the most salted in the world. Swimming here can bring an unpleasant sensation of burning, but the funny part is that even the hopeless swimmer can float on the surface.

Divided between Jordan and Israel, the access to the Dead Sea is harder in Israel. The level of the sea has lowered of more than 40 meters because of the construction of flood barriers for agricultural, industrial and, how ironic, touristic needs. The lowering of the Dead Sea generated the appearance of salt craters near its shores. Seen from above, the sea looks more like a solidified precious stone. Now, several spots of the Dead Sea are inaccessible because of these craters.

Oceania

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef
Credit: Pixabay

Near Queensland state in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is the only visible organism from space. Composed of 2 900 reefs and a hundred coral islands, it is 2 300 km long. 400 types of coral and white-sanded beaches are the original elements of the Barrier’s beauty.

Without forgetting the fauna: rare dugongs, humpback whales, six species of marine turtles and more. The Great Barrier Reef attracts more than 3 million tourists every year, representing 6.4 billion dollars to the Australian economy. And actually, tourists only visit 10% of the barrier territory. The northern and southern ends of the barrier are still unexplored. Only a few lucky divers have the occasion to go diving to these parts of the barrier to observe, during magical nights in November and December, the egg-laying of corals.

With climatic changes, UNESCO tried to convince the Australian government to put the Barrier on the list of endangered sites. But Australia feared baseless rebounds on tourism. In summer 2016, the hottest of all, the rate of tourism increased. Tourists rushed to the Barrier to admire it before the heat killed the rest of the corals. 93% of corals turned white because of the heat, due to the acidification of the oceans, destroying the essential living link between coral and seaweed. Yet, the dangers of tropical storms and human activities worsen this non-fatal issue.

The dispersal of fertilizers in the sea generates a proliferation of crown-of-thorns starfishes near the Barrier. These creatures are huge, terrifying and venomous and feed themselves on coral polyps. But great news, this noxious starfish can be exterminated with vinegar.

Easter Island

Easter Island
Credit: Pixabay

Who doesn’t know the famous moai statues of Easter Island? Those stone giants are the testimony of Rapa Nui, the great Polynesian civilization. But the reason for the endangering of this island is quite singular, as it’s their own inhabitants, and more precisely, the first Polynesian settlers.

Arriving on the island in the 11th century, Polynesian settlers exploited its resources unrestrainedly, causing the collapse of their civilization. When the first European, explorer Jacob Roggeven, arrived on the island in 1722, it was a desert island with 700 inhabitants. A few centuries earlier, the island was a luxuriant nature, covered with palm trees. Its population counted 20 000 inhabitants, divided into several tribes. Thanks to their innovative sculpture techniques, they built from the 11th to the 15th century more than 800 moai, made of volcanic stone. Even though we think it may be for religious or political reasons , the existence of moais remains a mystery, like the island itself. In 2015, archeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg and her team discovered the moai’s statue busts, with engravings in a language still unknown today.

Visiting Easter Island today is like visiting a whole new world. But the elevation of sea level threatens 250 moai statues. Sensitive to sea salt and winds, volcanic stone suffers from erosion.

Kiribati Archipelago

Kiribati Archipelago
Credit: Peapix

This is one kind of an island. Only a real traveler has already heard of this archipelago, located in the Federated States of Micronesia, in the Pacific Ocean. During the 2016 Olympic Games, the weightlifter David Katoatu became a celebrity by making funny dance moves. But the aim wasn’t to make fun of himself, but to draw the public’s attention to his native country, the Kiribati Islands, threatened by climatic changes.

And it is to believe that the elevation of sea level may make the islands disappear in less than 20 years. In 2012, Kiribati’s president bought land in Fiji to welcome part of Kiribati’s population, while others migrated to New Zealand. So yes, Kiribati will not remain the paradise it is today and the best destination for water sports. And above all, the Kiribati archipelago is the natural shelter of the Phoenix Islands, famous for its marine reserve and underwater volcano.

And one of the main reasons to take actions to protect the Kiribati archipelago is that, located on the International Date Line, it is the first country in the world to reach the New Year on 31th December night. Also, it’s in this archipelago that the Kirtimati island remains, known as the ancient Christmas island, discovered by James Cook in 1777.

Americas

The Amazon Rainforest

Amazon Rainforest
Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas; Brazil
Credit: Neil Palmer

Since the 1970’s, the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project has studied nature fragments in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. These studies show that this green lung of South America is the greatest victim of deforestation. The forest has lost 20% of its ground, mainly because of mahogany trees’ exploitation. This exploitation goes too far, but is judged necessary for the development of South American countries. 60% of its fauna and flora represents creatures and plants of the world. Half of these species could disappear in less than 10 years.

As the trees’ humidity generates the Amazon’s rains, cutting them includes reducing rainfall, and therefore, the death of several plants who rain humidity to survive. This deforestation issue generates devastating fires and the stubble burning for pasture transforms the forest into a greenhouse gas area. Livestock farming makes the forest decline, as do mining and oil-producing industries. As a consequence of soil extraction activity and construction of flood barriers, the territory of the Amazon River is divided, endangering the natural habitat of species like the boto (Amazon river dolphin).

Some populations and politicians assimilate the fight for saving the Amazon rainforest as the real fight the media call World War III.

Chan Chan

Chan Chan
Credit: Viator

The biggest fans of The Emperor’s New Groove will recognize the symbols on the wall of Chan Chan. 600 years ago, this great Peruvian fortress was the biggest adobe city in the world. Its 60 000 inhabitants were at the service of an absolute monarchy. The city counted 10 palaces, linked with each other thanks to a labyrinth of streets. The surrounding walls are 10 meters tall and decorated with drawings of fishes, mollusks and fruit. As for Chan Chan’s people, food was a gift from the gods.

From 850 to 1470, Chan Chan was the capitol of the Chimu civilization. It was the most prosperous city in America, never suffering from lack of water. Chimu’s engineers built an extraordinary canalization system, 50 km long, to carry water all around the city for the population’s needs and of fields irrigation. Even though Chan Chan didn’t have a writing system, it was the first technological city of the New World thanks to its canal system which, would not be discovered in Europe before the 19th century.

In the 15th century, Incas colonized Chan Chan. Its engineers had to move to Cuzco, where they were forced to work for the city’s development. The presence of gold and silver decorations on the palaces’ walls attracted Francisco Pizarro, the great conqueror of Peru. He plundered the city and then, Chan Chan was abandoned.

What seems so unrealistic in Chan Chan today is that what was her greater strength in the past is her greater weakness today. Water is soaking the structure of the city. With the increase of storms in Peru, the board structure of Chan Chan turns into mud and is weakened by interspersed periods of dryness. The Peruvian government tries to work with UNESCO to protect the site, mainly by using tarpaulins and consolidating the city’s structure with distilled water and cactus juice. But today, the pressure from the population of Trujillo is growing bigger and bigger. The inhabitants of this modern city need cultivable fields, even if this means « bye bye Chan Chan ».

Denali National Park

Denali National Park
Credit: Arizona Dream

The Denali National Park in Alaska is a dream coming true for forest lovers. Previously known as Mount McKinley, president Barack Obama renamed it as Denali, its initial name in the Athapaskan language. It became a symbol of European imperialism over First Nations. Changing the name of the highest mount of North America (6 194 meters) drew the public’s attention to be aware of climatic changes. This park is one of the most beautiful natural reserves in America, but also the most endangered one.

Air pollution due to mining activities started to have an effect on the park’s fauna and flora. Natural dangers like fires, good for soil renovation, happen too often nowadays. Combined with the erosion phenomenon, it threatens the stability of the permafrost. Denali Park shelters the most emblematic animals of North America: grizzly bears, elks, caribous and wolves. Being the most attractive spot for tourists in Alaska, some of them may lobby the park’s direction to arrange it with more passable roads. These suggestions are often rejected as the concept of the park is to keep it as wild as possible.

Denali Park also shelters the memory of Christopher McCandless, a young student who lived his last days in the park before dying from poisoning.

Travel, Discover, and Protect 

We keep hearing today that human activities are threatening nature’s balance. And this is a fact we must pay close attention to. Emblematic animal species are disappearing today. You may not even know it, but it could be an animal you already saw once in your life, maybe as a child. Extreme exploitation of natural resources, elevation of sea levels, melting of the ice cap and more disastrous consequences of human activities have effects on some of the most beautiful spots in the world. A piece of advice? When Covid-19 is over, go to these amazing places. Discover them, explore them, and fall in love with them to feel the urge to protect these wonders. They are important historical, priceless timepieces and the source of significant anthropology of the human species. 

 

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