Credit: Alexander Kaiser, pooliestudios.com
We all want to travel the world, see new places, get inspired by their heritage, biodiversity, or whatever it is that breathes splendour into their DNA. While we may often fantasise about a perfect carefree life spent mostly on travel, there are always constraints holding us back. As we try our best to reassure ourselves, we keep making false promises that we’ll commit to our travel plans right after this project, or that milestone. Next year; there’s always next year.
But what if next year, your travel destination no longer exists? Or the world mourns the loss of one of its oldest heritage sites?
As we approach a new year, many of us like to stop and contemplate our lives and the paths we’re treading, readjusting our navigation as we rearrange our priorities. This year, you may want to put these seven destinations at the top of your travel list. Soon, some of them may no longer be there to visit.
1. Mount Kilimanjaro
Camping on Shira Plateu, Mt Kilimanjaro. Credit: Eric Andrews. Source: Flickr
Standing tall at 5,895m above sea level, Mt. Kilimanjaro is a popular destination for adventure travellers who seek to taste the glory of standing on the highest summit in Africa. Trekking from the foothill of Mt. Kili to its summit is a journey that takes you through six ecological systems, starting with cultivated land and ending with the arctic summit. However, it’s become a controversial question whether the summit will remain arctic for long.
According to a 2009 article published in the journal Nature, the Kilimanjaro glaciers – estimated to be around 11,700 years old – covered (at the time of publishing) only 15% of the area they used to cover in 1912.
With plenty of controversy surrounding the loss of ice on Mt. Kili – mostly to sublimation rather than melting – and not enough data to analyse the situation, some claim that within a couple of decades, there may no longer be any ice atop the highest summit in Africa.
Brazilian Amazon forest. Source: Wikimedia
Known as the lungs of the planet, the Amazon, which spans 6.7 million km2, is regarded the world’s largest rainforest. This 55 million-year old biome is an open museum for at least 10% of the world’s biodiversity, parading nature’s splendour of fish, flora and fauna – some of which exist nowhere else on Earth, while others still lurk around undiscovered.
Due to deforestation, overconsumption, and global warming, the Amazon and all of its riches are in grave danger. In the past 50 years alone, the Amazon has lost 17% of its forest cover. Not only has this forced some of the Amazonian inhabitants that have the luxury of movement to relocate, it jeopardizes the entire ecosystem due its major impact on the global climate.
Researchers predict that even if the carbon emissions and deforestation are cut down, maintaining the optimistic 2C climate limit, we will still lose 20-40% of the rainforest within 100 years. Even worse, if the limit culminates to 4C, the Amazon will probably lose 85% of its rainforest.
Venice's grand canal. Source: Maxpixel
Could the Floating City soon become an underwater city? Famous for its network of canals that run through 118 small islands connected by 400 bridges, Italy’s Venice is among the highly jeopardised, potential victims of global warming.
According to a report published in Quarternary International, around 5,500km2 of coastal plains – 283km2 of which along the north Adriatic coast and western parts of Italy – are expected to be completely flooded by 2100.
Since 1880 when the global sea levels were first recorded, they have risen by 20cm. By 2100 if the carbon footprint is not curbed and the arctic continues to melt, the global sea levels are expected to rise by almost 2m by 2100 and, even more alarmingly, more than 15m by 2500. If that happens, Venice will no longer exist outside history books.
Addu Atoll, Maldives. Credit: Mark Hodson/ 101 Holidays. Source: Flickr
Facing a similar threat as Venice is the famous archipelago of 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean, the idyllic Maldives.
At an average height of 1.2m, and the highest point at 2.4m, the country is considered the flattest and lowest in the world. While this may casually pass as just another fact for a country that lies on land mass, for the Maldives, this rings alarm bells for an inevitable fate of submersion.
5. Dead Sea
Traces of the Dead Sea's receding waters. Credit: Le Hollaender. Source: Pixabay
Nestled in the Jordan Rift Valley, the Dead Sea – which isn’t actually a sea, but rather a salt late – is among the most famous destinations in the Middle East. At 430m below sea level, the lake’s surface and surrounding shores are marked as the lowest land elevation on Earth.
The Dead Sea derives its popularity from its very high level of salinity – reaching up to almost 10 times the salinity of the ocean –making it a therapeutic as well as fun destination for vacationers.
Sadly though, the Dead Sea is shrinking at a disturbing rate. Since the 1950s, the water level has dropped by 40m. Resorts that were once at the brink of the salt lake are now at least 2km away from the water.
Despite the rapid shrinkage of the water mass, the lake will not entirely disappear, one BBC article suggests. “As the level drops, the density and saltiness are rising and will eventually reach a point where the rate of evaporation will reach a kind of equilibrium,” the article reads. “So it might get a lot smaller, but it won't disappear entirely.”
6. Great Barrier Reef
Reef snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Source: Wikimedia
Covering some 348,000km2 off the northeast coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, home to around 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish, and 1,500 type of mollusc, is an underwater wonderland for both divers and marine scientists.
Despite being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, it has since then suffered four mass reef bleaching events in 1998, 2002, 2016, and 2017 which were caused by underwater heat waves.
Research suggests that fast-growing coral may take 10-15 years to regain its original status, while others may take up to decades to recover. With two consecutive bleaching events, scientists worry that a lot of corals may not survive the last wave.
Unless the water temperature is maintained within the optimum 23-29 degrees Celsius range, humanity may be slowly bidding this 500,000-year-old coral reef farewell.
7. The Alps
Standing on a high glacier at Aletsch Glacier, Fieschertal. Credit: Dino Reichmuth
Famous for their winter sports and posh skiing resorts, the Alps, which stretch along 1,200km across Europe, covering 207,000km2, attract tens of millions of visitors each year. But with widely permeating global warming effects, glaciers and the ice sheet across the mountain range are melting away, and the results are far graver than their influence on Alpine tourism.
In the past century, the Alps have lost half of their ice volume, 20% of which has been lost since the mid-1980s – a turning point that witnessed a notable acceleration in the rate of ice loss. While rise in temperature by one degree Celsius causes the snowline to retreat by 150m, the Alps have been subject to double that rate in the last century. As a result, areas that saw snowfall now see rainfall instead.
Besides visible repercussions which can be sensed across the Alpine tourism and bottled water industries, Nat Geo author Erla Zwingle accentuates another problem. The mountains may be losing the glue keeping them together: water.
“Water is what is literally holding the high mountains together, and if the ice and permafrost begin to lose their grip, as is already happening, the mountains start to crumble,” she notes. “Rock-falls, only an occasional hazard in earlier times, are increasing, endangering communications towers and radio installations, not to mention the occasional human.”
If conditions remain as they are, the Alps could be losing up to 70% of their ice volume by 2099, with the snowline receding to 1,000m higher. However, if the greenhouse gas emissions are subdued to below two degrees Celsius, only 30% of the ice sheet would melt away.