There are 962 sites on the World Heritage List — places that are considered rich in cultural and natural heritage with outstanding universal value — but some of them are losing the battle against nature and man’s encroachment. Check out these 10 remarkable sites that are under threat before it’s too late.
Everglades National Park
Florida’s Everglades National Park is the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie in North America and welcomes roughly 1 million visitors each year to explore its alligator-filled waters and endless mangroves. But what once covered 11,000 square miles, now makes up just 2,400 square miles. The wetlands are considered the most significant breeding ground for wading birds in North America, yet it’s recognized as the most threatened national park because of the serious degradation of its aquatic ecosystem.
Glacier National Park
If current predictions are true, the reason this park is named Glacier National Park could be gone by 2030. More than two-thirds of the original 150 glaciers that existed in 1850 have melted, a real-world testament to the dramatic impact of climate change even though the park service has made steps to reduce energy use and decrease waste. What to see now: You can get right up to the glaciers on a guided snowshoe walk. They’re offered on Saturdays and Sundays from mid-January through mid-March.
Great Barrier Reef
It’s the world’s largest marine life system and one of the main attractions of Queensland (if not Australia at large). But the Great Barrier Reef is threatened by rapid coastal development, including several liquefied natural gas plants. During the last 27 years, coral cover alone has decreased by 50 percent. What to see now: Set out on a diving adventure with a guide who knows how to explore the reef without damaging it—many dive shops offer introductory trips if you’re not certified.
Though the physical location of Tibet may not be going anywhere, the Tibetan culture is slowly being eradicated. After the Chinese took over the country in the 1950s, the nomadic ways of the peaceful Tibetans living in grassland plateaus is being all but been erased. Throughout the region, laws have eliminated Tibetan language lessons in an effort to replace it with Mandarin Chinese. And the Dalai Lama—who is both the head of state and spiritual leader of Tibet—has been in exile since 1959.
It’s a wonder that this hypersaline lake even exists at 1,388 feet below sea level, but tourists have flocked to its supposed healing waters for thousands of years. However, the Dead Sea is dying. Forget climate change (though summer temps can reach as high to 120 degrees), it’s human consumption that’s the issue here. Water from the Jordan River (the feeder to the sea) is used for industrial purposes and is diverting as much as 95 percent of the water away from the Dead Sea.
The glaciers of the Swiss Alps are shrinking by about 33 feet per year and scientists predict that most could melt entirely by 2050 if temperatures continue to rise. Annual snowfall in the region has been on the decline for the past few decades, putting the lower elevation ski resorts at risk of closure. What to see now: The Aletsch Glacier in Valais, Switzerland is the largest in the Alps, but it’s lost nearly three miles in length and 650 feet in depth since 1864. Some of the best views are from Eggishorn, and you can reach the top via a cable car from the village of Fiesch.
Deforestation (often to create more pastures and cropland) poses the biggest threat to the largest rainforest on the planet, though rates have slowed in recent years. Home to millions of species, the Amazon is one of Earth’s last refuges for jaguars, harpy eagles and pink dolphins. At the current rate of deforestation, more than half of the 1.4 billion acres of rain forest could be gone by 2030. What to see now: Embark on a canopy tour through the rainforest and see the extraordinary wildlife from a different point of view. Canopy tours eliminate much of the environmental impact of trekking through the jungle floor so you can feel secure you’re leaving less of a mark.
Venice has been slowly sinking for hundreds of years due to the shifting sediments of the lagoon it was built on. The annual high tide that floods the main piazzas has been increasing over the past century. And now, the $7 billion floodgate project to protect the Italian city has been delayed thanks to protests that it’ll be too difficult and expensive to maintain. But in the wake of devastating flooding in early November that left 70% of the historic port city underwater, we hope all involved sides find a solution. What to see now: Hop on a vaporetto—a Venetian waterbus—and set out into the lagoon to explore the islands of Murano, which is famous for its glass, and Burano, known for its lace.
Chihuahuan Desert, U.S. – Mexico Border
Stretching from the Southwestern U.S. and into the Central Mexican Highlands, the Chihuahuan is North America’s largest desert and it’s in danger. Population growth, poor water management, agricultural expansion, invasive species and illegal wildlife trade are the most potent threats. Around 5.5 million people depend on the Rio Grande-Rio Bravo river system for water, and it’s already 150 percent over-allocated. What to see now: Explore Southwest Texas’ Big Bend National Park with a rafting trip through the Rio Grande’s canyons—you’ll be rewarded with views of the colorful buttes, mesas and mountains along the border.
The islands made famous by Charles Darwin are now more threatened than ever. An increase in visitors, invasive species, global warming and pollution are just a few things that have contributed to the damage. Population in the Galápagos has also increased from around 3,000 in the 1960s to nearly 30,000 in 2012. While the science-centric archipelago welcomes more than 160,000 visitors each year, the industry is based on an ecotourism-model to support conservation—and many tourists return home with a newfound understanding of the islands’ ecological importance. What to see now: Visits to the uninhabited islands are tightly controlled, so you’ll need a naturalist to explore them. On North Seymour you’ll encounter sunbathing sea lions, blue-footed boobies and red-breasted frigatebirds.
Photos Courtesy of Freckles Photos, Glacier NPS and Trekker 314