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15 endangered travel destinations to visit in a rapidly changing world

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 7/18/2019 John Briley

  a herd of sheep standing on top of a snow covered mountain: The number of glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park declined from nearly 150 in 1910, when the park was established, to 26 in 2015, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. More glaciers are likely to disappear in the next few decades. This stunning park offers more than just ancient ice, but the loss has serious implications for the ecosystem and the species that depend on it. © Shutterstock/Shutterstock The number of glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park declined from nearly 150 in 1910, when the park was established, to 26 in 2015, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. More glaciers are likely to disappear in the next few decades. This stunning park offers more than just ancient ice, but the loss has serious implications for the ecosystem and the species that depend on it.

Travelers with bucket lists tend to see the challenge as limited by their schedule, budget and life span. Increasingly, though, there’s a fourth dimension: how much longer a destination or experience, as advertised, will be around for a tourist to enjoy.

Many places are disappearing or transforming before our eyes: Pacific islands succumbing to sea-level rise; the Amazon rainforest withering because of unchecked development; the Gulf of California losing the vaquita porpoise to extinction by poaching.

To be fair, not all factors altering the travel landscape are bad. The modernity that nostalgic backpackers have decried in the Himalaya, for example, also brought first-world medical care to isolated communities. But right now the tourism world is facing a suite of mostly negative transformative influences. Here we highlight five — climate change, deforestation, erosion, wildlife poaching and gentrification — and offer examples of places and experiences that may soon go the way of the traveler’s check.

As a tourist, you can help by choosing hotels, tour operators and guides that work to solve some of these problems, not contribute to them, and by interacting with locals to appreciate the challenges they face. The last thing any of us wants is to check off a bucket-list destination only to realize that we’re part of the reason it’s disappearing.

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Climate change

Rising seas and melting glaciers have obvious implications for residents and travelers, but so do some events less often tied to climate change, including drought, mudslides, wildfires and shifts in species’ range that might, for example, bring mosquitoes — and the diseases they carry — to some regions for the first time in human history.

a herd of sheep standing on top of a snow covered mountain: The number of glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park declined from nearly 150 in 1910, when the park was established, to 26 in 2015, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. More glaciers are likely to disappear in the next few decades. This stunning park offers more than just ancient ice, but the loss has serious implications for the ecosystem and the species that depend on it. © Shutterstock/Shutterstock The number of glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park declined from nearly 150 in 1910, when the park was established, to 26 in 2015, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. More glaciers are likely to disappear in the next few decades. This stunning park offers more than just ancient ice, but the loss has serious implications for the ecosystem and the species that depend on it. a river running through a field of grass: While recent restoration efforts are helping reverse decades of poor water management decisions upstream, the Florida Everglades faces a multipronged threat of drought, excessive air temperatures and elevated salinity from sea-level rise, which not only kills the saw grass prairie but causes the underlying peat soil to collapse — foreshadowing a bleak future for the grasses, fish and other species in the Everglades. © iStock/iStock While recent restoration efforts are helping reverse decades of poor water management decisions upstream, the Florida Everglades faces a multipronged threat of drought, excessive air temperatures and elevated salinity from sea-level rise, which not only kills the saw grass prairie but causes the underlying peat soil to collapse — foreshadowing a bleak future for the grasses, fish and other species in the Everglades.

Poaching

Poaching, which feeds a multibillion-dollar illegal wildlife trade, also affects non-target species, says William Laurance, a distinguished professor at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. The arrival of predatory humans in a formerly pristine area creates “landscapes of fear” among wildlife so that even species that aren’t directly targeted bolt at the slightest indication that people are nearby.

a bird sitting on top of a tree: Although the mountain gorilla population in central Africa has risen from an estimated 230 in the 1980s to 1,000 today, the species remains critically endangered, says Craig Sholley, senior vice president at the African Wildlife Foundation. “The area has changed dramatically. You’re now visiting an island forest surrounded by a sea of people. I’m optimistic about the [gorilla’s] future, but 1,000 individuals is a small number, and climate change and disease could wipe them out.”

Although the mountain gorilla population in central Africa has risen from an estimated 230 in the 1980s to 1,000 today, the species remains critically endangered, says Craig Sholley, senior vice president at the African Wildlife Foundation. “The area has changed dramatically. You’re now visiting an island forest surrounded by a sea of people. I’m optimistic about the [gorilla’s] future, but 1,000 individuals is a small number, and climate change and disease could wipe them out.”
© Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post

Deforestation

An estimated 18 million acres of forest — an area the size of Panama — is felled to make room for development every year, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. At that rate, the world’s rainforests could be wiped out in 100 years.

a train driving down a dirt road: Across the Congo Basin in Africa, new roads are dicing up ecosystems and opening once-pristine woodlands to slash-and-burn farmers and poachers. “This is bad development,” says Laurance, in part because widespread corruption prevents any benefit from reaching the local people. The effects are most severe in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, the Congo Republic, eastern Congo. “A lot of sub-Saharan Africa is changing at an incredible pace. If you want to see natural Africa, you’d better go now.”

Across the Congo Basin in Africa, new roads are dicing up ecosystems and opening once-pristine woodlands to slash-and-burn farmers and poachers. “This is bad development,” says Laurance, in part because widespread corruption prevents any benefit from reaching the local people. The effects are most severe in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, the Congo Republic, eastern Congo. “A lot of sub-Saharan Africa is changing at an incredible pace. If you want to see natural Africa, you’d better go now.”
© Amaury Hauchard/AFP/Getty Images

Erosion

While change is the one real constant, humankind, in our eternal quest for near-term gratification, has managed to accelerate the process in some places.

a castle on top of a dirt field: Built in 1860, the mud and brick Telouet Kasbah housed one of Morocco’s richest men — Thami El Glaoui — who, despite predating the Clash, routinely rocked his Kasbah with wild parties. In part because he sided with the French in Morocco’s independence fight, the state has not invested in restoring his fortress and only one section, run by Glaoui’s descendants, remains accessible to tourists. Wind, rain and time have reduced the rest nearly to rubble.

Built in 1860, the mud and brick Telouet Kasbah housed one of Morocco’s richest men — Thami El Glaoui — who, despite predating the Clash, routinely rocked his Kasbah with wild parties. In part because he sided with the French in Morocco’s independence fight, the state has not invested in restoring his fortress and only one section, run by Glaoui’s descendants, remains accessible to tourists. Wind, rain and time have reduced the rest nearly to rubble.
© Peter Engelke/Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

Gentrification

The effects of gentrification on travelers — my favorite dim sum cart is GONE! — pale in comparison to the challenge faced by residents pushed out by unaffordable rents or, in extreme cases, bulldozers. In an increasingly populous and hyper-informed world, fewer and fewer pockets of desirable land will escape the notice of developers.

a boat sitting on top of a sandy beach: In Kenya, Lamu earned renown as one of the most authentic Swahili settlements in East Africa. But because of its strategic location — near Ethiopia and South Sudan — Lamu is now the site of a huge port project that will bring “more ships, more roads, more pollution, and the idyllic paradise that is Lamu will disappear,” says Harriet Constable, a journalist and expert on the area.

In Kenya, Lamu earned renown as one of the most authentic Swahili settlements in East Africa. But because of its strategic location — near Ethiopia and South Sudan — Lamu is now the site of a huge port project that will bring “more ships, more roads, more pollution, and the idyllic paradise that is Lamu will disappear,” says Harriet Constable, a journalist and expert on the area.
© Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

Briley is a writer based in Takoma Park, Md. His website is johnbriley.com


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