Join us on a photo tour of some of the world's most endangered natural gems.
10 Natural Wonders to See Before They Disappear
Going once, going twice…some of the world's most enchanting places might not make it through this century. Here are 10 places you may not have realized are threatened—and how to experience them responsibly.
This 2.5 million–acre wetland encompasses cypress swamps, mangroves, sawgrass and pine savannahs. It's the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators share territory.
The Threat: A host of dangers are putting this fragile wetland at risk: pollution from farms, invasive species, and encroaching development, not to mention the fact that 60 percent of the region's water is being diverted to nearby cities and farms. As a result, The Everglades is now half the size it was in 1900. Worse, this is the sole habitat of the Florida panther, and there are less than 100 of the creatures left in the wild. These big cats may be completely lost within the next 40 years as their habitat disappears (they're not alone, either—at least 20 species in the Everglades are endangered, including turtles, manatees, and wading birds).
Get There: Founded by a former government biologist, Environmental Adventure Company offers intensive 5-day ecotours of The Everglades, starting with two days in the Florida Keys, entering The Everglades by Zodiac inflatable boat, then hiking and touring the waterways by boat (from $1,995 per person, excluding airfare).
More than 80 percent of Madagascar's flora and fauna are found nowhere else on Earth, thanks to millions of years of isolation in the Indian Ocean off of Africa.
The Threat: If nothing is done to save the world's fourth-largest island, its forests will be gone in 35 years (once 120,000 square miles, they're now down to 20,000), and their unique inhabitants along with them. Forest ecosystems are being destroyed by logging, burning for subsistence farms, and poaching. The 20 species of lemurs for which Madagascar is renowned are in danger of disappearing. Though there are game reserves, they're not large (occupying only five percent of the island), nor are they contiguous, thus failing to provide corridors for the animals to travel through. Some of Madagascar's endemic species have never even been recorded, and will likely be lost before they can be studied.
Get There: Winner of the Responsible Tourism Award from Conservation International and USAID in 2008, Eastern Tours offers day-tours of the forested east coast ($100 and under). Or go over the top on a once-in-a-lifetime trip with the World Wildlife Fund's official travel provider, Natural Habitat Adventures, on a 14-day in-depth tour of Madagascar (from $10,895 per person, excluding airfare).
The nation is rich in coral reefs and endangered fish—like the giant Napolean wrasse, leopard shark, and some 250 manta rays (most with wingspans of 10 feet).
The Threat: Few scientists hold out much hope for the Maldives—the world's lowest nation—if global warming continues to melt the ice caps and raise sea levels. Its 1,190 small islands and atolls (200 of which are inhabited) scattered across the Indian Ocean rise a mere eight feet above sea level. In 2008, the President of the Maldives announced the government would start buying land in other countries, including India, for future homes for citizens displaced by rising waters. In 2009, he held a cabinet meeting underwater to stress the islands' vulnerability.
Get There: Visit the beaches, towns, and fishing villages of the Maldives on a 7-day cruise with Gap Adventures (from $1,349 per person).
The natural phenomena here are unique and inspiring: towering icebergs, Aurora Borealis, and majestic animals (penguins, polar bears, whales).
The Threat: The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the world's largest non-profit ocean research group, has predicted that 80 percent of the emperor penguin population of Antarctica will be lost, and the rest in danger of extinction, if global warming continues. In the Arctic, the polar bear is also endangered by the steady loss of sea ice (which has decreased 3 percent per decade since the 1970s). As sea ice disappears at the poles, so do entire ecosystems: the phytoplankton that grows under ice sheets feeds zooplankton and small crustaceans like krill, which are on the food chain for fish, seals, whales, polar bears and penguins. Studies predict that with continued warming, within 20-40 years, no ice will form in Antarctica.