From the frosted peaks of Everest to the winding depths of the Grand Canyon, our planet boasts some spectacular natural marvels. It only takes a short viewing of Sir David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth’ series to become inspired by the natural splendour we are privileged to enjoy.
However, the picture isn’t always as rosy as virgin forests and thriving ecosystems.
From the bleached plains of the Great Barrier Reef to the rising waters of the Venice Canals, our planet is also burdened by environments under threat. Travellers have a unique opportunity to enjoy natural wonders all around the world, but they also have a unique responsibility to respect and preserve them for generations to come.
Below, we explore five popular tourist spots that are facing extinction and outline simple strategies to be a responsible traveller.
Why should I be a responsible traveller?
Before we dive into examples of tourist spots under threat, let’s touch on what it means to be a responsible traveller and why it’s important for today’s adventurers.
There are more than one billion tourists travelling around the globe each year. By the year 2030, the World Tourism Organisation predicts this number will reach close to two billion. There are over 20 million cruise passengers each year, 206 million airline passengers to and from the US alone, and over 4 million visits to Yellowstone National Park.
All of these travellers, whether directly or indirectly, have had an impact on the environment.
Being a responsible traveller means making informed choices about every aspect of your travel experience, from where you visit, how you get there, the tours and accommodation you enjoy, and even the belongings you take with you. We’ll list some simple strategies on how you can become a responsible traveller later in this article, but now let’s look at popular tourist spots that are facing extinction.
1. The Alps, Switzerland
Switzerland is known for its cheese, chocolate, tennis champions and the breathtaking Swiss Alps. But the once-winter-wonderland is now steadily becoming a landscape of barren green hills, as the 2016 festive season recorded its lowest snow fall since 1864.
This year, there have been a number of news articles declaring the Swiss Alps a “drought zone” due to low snowfall and a ban on fake snow production. Images of hopeful skiers sliding down narrow strips of snow on an otherwise barren mountainside have caused a stir in the media.
Surrounding European countries that usually attract travelling snow bunnies were also affected, with Italy suffering through the driest snow season in 135 years, and 45,000 workers left unemployed during the French and Swiss snow season.
The picturesque Alpine glaciers are also retreating, with one study estimating an average of 72 feet in 2015; more than twice the rate of the previous year. One glaciologist with the Austrian Academy of Sciences stated that the “glacial meltdown” was caused by “long periods of high pressure and the absence of snowfall.”
While there’s little individual travellers can do to prevent diminishing snow fall or receding glaciers, human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are believed to be a direct contributor to these occurrences. Selecting airlines that use sustainable bio-fuels is one of the ways travellers can do their bit to protect the world’s stunning natural attractions, but we’ll get into more detail about responsible travelling later in this article.
2. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef system in the world. The system has over 900 islands, stretches for over 2,600 kilometres, and is composed of over 2,900 individual reef.
The monumental natural phenomenon is one of Australia’s biggest tourism draw-cards, but it’s also one that could “die off” by the year 2100.
A Griffith University study found that reef-building corals are suffering from increasing algae, which is thriving due to the elevated C02 in the seawater. According to the Great Barrier Reef website, warmer ocean temperatures are causing the coral to become bleached. The website explains that in 2002, aerial surveys of the reef showed that over 50% of the reefs had been effected.
Around two million visitors travel to the Great Barrier Reef each year, and thankfully many of them elect to stay in environmentally-friendly accommodations and travel on non-invasive boats. For example, the Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises company prides itself on operating eco-friendly reef tours that are certified with industry standards in eco-tourism.
3. Venice, Italy
Italy’s stunning city on the sea, Venice, is one of the most romantic places in the world. It goes by many nicknames, including the “City of Bridges”, “The Floating City” and the “Queen of the Adriatic”.
Unfortunately, Venice is now becoming widely known as “The Sinking City.”
A 2010 research paper found the combination of increasingly frequent high tide events, rising sea levels and a physically sinking city are the key contributors to Venice’s gradual retreat into the sea.
The City has erected a number of movable tide barriers to combat the flooding events, which are incredibly damaging to buildings in low-lying areas of Venice.
4. Napa Valley, California
The Napa Valley in California is the birthplace of some of the world’s finest wines. The Valley welcomes over 3 million wine-lovers each year, who enjoy the California countryside over an elegant glass of Cabernet.
But wildfires and sustained heat waves are threatening countless vineyards in the Napa Valley, as crops are either spoiled by over-ripe grapes or destroyed completely.
Wine grapes are widely regarded as fragile to grow because of their extreme sensitivity to temperatures, rain and sunshine. Climate studies have estimated that wine production in the Napa Valley will all but cease by the year 2050 due to extreme weather events. Interestingly, new areas further north will become more suitable to wine growing by 2050.
5. The Amazon, Brazil
The Amazon is by far the world’s biggest rainforest, spanning roughly 7 million square kilometres. It’s estimated to house almost 400 billion individual trees and 2.5 million species of insects.
Cattle ranching, logging, land wars and infrastructure projects are much to blame for the deforestation.
How to be a responsible traveller
Travellers are not to blame for heat waves, coral bleaching, rising sea levels and deforestation. However, as we mentioned at the start of this article, travellers have some direct or indirect impact on the environment. And in many cases, this impact can even be a positive one.
Whether it’s by choosing eco-friendly tours, staying at hotels that are certified to industry ecotourism standards, flying with airlines that use sustainable biofuels, or just educating yourself on the local ecosystem, you can help to leave your destination as pristine as you found it.