These are the driving forces behind a macabre new trend called “doom tourism.” Aware that many natural wonders are evaporating, deteriorating or dying, people are rushing to catch ‘em while they can! Recently, it’s become popular to visit the Maldives Islands, ski in the European Alps or snorkel along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In two to three decades they could be gone, victims of pollution, development, neglect and the rising seas and air temperatures of global warming.
Here’s a chilling sampling of endangered places and species you might consider taking in – before it’s too late!
That Sinking Feeling
The Maldives, an archipelago of 1190 islands with glorious beaches and prime scuba diving located southwest of India, are slowly sinking. The oceans are expanding as global temperatures rise and polar ice melts, and the Maldives, the lowest country in the world (average elevation of 2.3 meters), are particularly vulnerable.
Many other beautiful islands face a wet future. The white beaches of Goa, India, are being eroded and submerged. The island nation of Kiribati in the central Pacific is making plans to evacuate 1,000 citizens a year for the next 20 years. Leaders of Micronesian states, including the Marshall Islands, are appealing to developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro, immortalized by Ernest Hemingway, are melting fast and will, according to scientists, be gone in about 15 years. Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is Africa’s highest mountain and is such a popular climbing destination it has its own international airport. Not only is melting ice transforming the face of this famous mountain, but nearby rivers, which supply water to many villages, are shrinking.
New Orleans and Hurricanes
In a country where most cities look alike, New Orleans, Louisiana, is a wonderful exception. Its unique architecture includes the famous cast-iron galleries of the French Quarter, creole cottages, shotgun houses and colourful raised bungalows. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina pummelled the city, the largest natural disaster in US history. With sea levels rising and hurricanes becoming more frequent, it seems inevitable that New Orleans will suffer further. Time your visit for the off-hurricane season.
A Bear of a Place
Churchill, Manitoba, a starkly beautiful place on the edge of the Arctic, is known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World. It’s also blessed with beluga whales, caribou and northern lights. In October and November you can board a tundra buggy, effectively a bus mounted on huge wheels, to watch the mightiest carnivores on earth as they gather to move onto the ice of Hudson Bay to catch seals.
Thanks to global warming, the ice of Hudson Bay is forming later and breaking up earlier so the polar bears are getting less food each year. The weight of the bears is declining and females are birthing fewer cubs. Polar bears are also drowning because ice floes are becoming smaller and drifting farther apart. Sadly, the Hudson Bay polar bear population has fallen 17 percent in the past decade and, according to the World Wildlife Fund, could be extinct by the end of the century.
Some tourist destinations will simply get too hot. Athens is at the top of this unenviable list. By 2020, summer temperatures will regularly soar above 40 degrees Celsius and smog, already a problem, will worsen, posing a health hazard. The fate of many other cities lies in the same cauldron including Cairo, Delhi and Istanbul.
Fragile Medieval Town
In the spectacular Himalayan high country in the state of Ladakh in northern India is the intact medieval town of Leh, with about 200 stone, mud and timber buildings, some dating to the 15th century. Already fragile, the buildings are vulnerable to heavy rains and runoff from the Himalayas’ melting glaciers. With global warming exacerbating the situation, the town is listed in the world’s top 100 most endangered cultural sites by the World Monuments Fund.
Animals Fight Back
Bumbusi National Monument, Zimbabwe, a remote archeological site surrounded by the Hwange National Park, was an ancient centre for religious activity. It is a rare example of the Great Zimbabwe architectural tradition and remains a sacred site. Its rock art, as well as the ruins of its stone buildings, are threatened by government neglect, the encroaching jungle and—surprise!—the activities of wild animals living in the surrounding park. Elephants and buffalo push over walls, while baboons move stones. Who can blame them?
A Devil of a Problem
There is no shortage of places where exotic animals and birds are going extinct. The beautiful island state of Tasmania, Australia, is home to the Tasmanian devil, the world’s largest carnivorous marsupial. The devils, who are black with a white stripe on the chest and about the size and shape of a dog, are being attacked by facial tumour disease, a contagious cancer. The devils’ plight is a rarity because it is not caused by human activities. Since its sudden onset in 1996, the cancer has wiped out about 64% of the devil population. Sadly, no cures have yet emerged. Tasmanian devils can be viewed at several wildlife parks in Tasmania.
There is no better proof that the planet is in trouble than the “doom tourism” sites themselves. But we can make a difference. Here are some suggestions: Stay in a hotel that has made a commitment to sustainability and has an active environmental program. Do not deface or damage monuments or artifacts. Use public transit whenever possible. Be courteous to local people and respectful of their culture. And, of course, do the common-sense things: switch off lights, conserve water, use a cloth bag for shopping, don’t litter and eat local produce.
By all means, visit these “doomed” place. But let’s also do our best to save them.
Photo credits: MiguelAngeloSilva, PraveenUpadhyay, Coldimages, keiichihiki
Thursday, October 8, 2009