Places you need to visit before they disappear

We often believe the earth beneath our feet is permanent, yet in reality our planet is in a constant state of flux, with landscapes changing, adapting and even disappearing. For many travellers these destinations on the brink of vanishing hold a special appeal, a last chance to see somewhere before it is gone forever. Here are a few places you may want to hurry up and get to before they are erased from the map once and for all.

The Arctic

Arctic Ice(Arctic image by christine zenino on Flickr)

For centuries man has searched in vain for a mythic Northwest Passage through the vast Arctic Icecap. Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, such a route would substantially cut journey times for ocean going ships traversing the seven seas. Yet the route has almost always been closed off by thick, treacherous, and usually permanent, pack ice. Until recently, that is. For in 2008 the Canadian Coast Guard stated that the first commercial ship in history sailed through the normally impassable route. If you’ve always wanted to trek across the savage landscape of the Arctic icecaps, huskies pulling you ever onward as you attempt to avoid Polar Bears, then you are going to have to hurry up. With ice rapidly breaking up due to global warming, and Arctic ice bergs now drifting as far south as Bermuda, this landscape is vanishing at a rapid rate.


Venice Flood
(Venice image by accidentalhedonist on Flickr)

One much publicised consequence of melting icecaps is an inevitable rise in sea levels. Low lying countries, such as Bangladesh, are most at risk of increased flooding, while a number of cities, such as Venice, are also in peril. Locals of this romantic Renaissance city have long bemoaned the flooding, at high tide, that frequently submerges St Mark’s Square in a shallow layer of water, and such inundations are proving to be increasingly common. To attempt to save this slowly sinking city, the Italian government is spending €4.7 billion on a system of 78 mobile flood barriers designed to protect the entire Venetian Lagoon. Only time will tell if such a scheme can withstand the inevitable rise of the Oceans, so do not wait too long to book your trip to this sumptuous and enchanting city.

The Maldives

(Maldives image by Sarah_Ackerman on Flickr)

The situation is even more serious elsewhere on the planet. The Maldives has long been threatened by rising sea levels associated with global warning, with over 80% of its land lying less than one metre above sea level. The precarious nature of this archipelago nation was brought into sharp focus in 2004 when the government started buying up land overseas, in countries such as India, in order to relocate its population of 360,000 people. With sea levels in the Indian Ocean rising rapidly in recent years, the Maldives may cease to exist within 20 years. Faced with such a stark future, this country is forced to confront the unthinkable – extinction. So if you’ve always dreamed of visiting this tropical idyll, make sure you visit A.S.A.P.


(Dunwich image by lesteph on Flickr)

Yet the sea can threaten land in other ways. The rough waves of the North-Sea have been slamming against the eastern coast of England for millennia. Parts of the country, such as North Yorkshire, have been disintegrating into the sea for thousands of years. The acclaimed writer Will Self took a walk across these windswept clifftops in 2009, a journey that is now impossible to take, as the earth he walked on has already crumbled into the sea. Yet nowhere is this process of erosion better exemplified than in Dunwich, East Anglia. Formerly one of the most important ports in Europe, Dunwich has been losing approximately one metre per year for over a thousand years. In fact, almost a mile of land has crumbled into the seas since the Romans left Britain. Periods of turbulent weather can prove to be especially damaging. For instance, between 1066 and 1086, years in which the Doomsday Book was compiled, the town lost over half of its taxable land in violent storms. When American author Henry James visited Dunwich in 1897, most of the town, including at least half of the old church, had already been lost to the North Sea. James wrote “I defy anyone, at desolate, exquisite Dunwich, to be disappointed in any way.” If you visit the site of Dunwich today the ruins of the town evoke a mysterious, melancholy air that reminds us of the consequences of nature.


Beijing Hutong
(Beijing Hutong image by kroangelard on Flickr)

Not all places at risk of disappearing from the face of the earth are threatened by natural forces, however. Much of our environment is being destroyed by another force, that of mankind itself. While the Chinese capital of Beijing is not likely to go anywhere anytime soon, the city, undergoing rapid urban renewal, is changing beyond recognition. Between 1990 and 2000 over 200,000 families were displaced, their homes destroyed, to make way for bigger, newer and more modern buildings. In the process Beijing has gotten richer and more westernised, but also lost some of its unique character. Ancient neighbourhoods such as Qianmen have succumbed to the wrecking ball. And there appears to be no let up in the pace of change. Soon most of the old Hutongs, one storey communal dwellings built in a traditional Chinese style around courtyards, will be gone, lost forever. So if you want to see some of Beijing’s authentic past, you better hurry up, as it will not be here much longer.

Amazon Rainforest

Amazon Rainforest
(Amazon rainforest image by Ivan Milnaric on Flickr)

If the pace of demolition in Beijing is striking, then it is miniscule compared to the rampant destruction of the world’s tropical rainforests. The Amazon Rainforest in particular has already lost over 20% of its canopy to illegal logging and agricultural development. Often called “The World’s Lungs” due to the amount of oxygen the forest pumps out, this last great wilderness is home to remote indigenous tribes, over 50% of the planet’s bird population, and so many different species of flora that scientists have only managed to catalogue 1% of them. Yet this delicate jungle ecosystem is being slowly eaten away by man, tree by uprooted tree. Though the forest is still roughly the size of the contiguous United States, it is shrinking day by day, and over 20,000 square miles of lush forest are torn up each and every year. Who knows how much will be left in ten year’s time?

If there is one lesson to be learned from these destinations, it is that you should not wait around if interested in visiting. Even some of the most prominent pieces of our planet will be here today, gone tomorrow.

Date posted: 23rd August, 2011

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