10 Most Precious Places on Earth—And How to Save Them

In 2007 the Galapagos were considered endangered—today they're not. If only all of our planet's treasures could be so lucky. In honor of Earth Day, we present 10 places our world depends on most—and how you can help preserve them.

UNESCO called Machu Picchu's problems "urgent," caused by everything from overdevelopment to heavy rains.

(Luq1 /

In 2007, UNESCO flagged the Galapagos Islands as an endangered place. But in 2010, after Ecuador's government stepped up conservation efforts, the Galapagos were dropped from the list. It's a story that gives us hope: With conservation efforts, funding, and a hefty dose of eco-focused TLC, we can turn potential disasters around. With that in mind, we researched places with unique features—wildlife, geography, culture—that would be devastating to lose. Once Africa's wild lions are extinct, for example, there's no replacing them. Ditto the island nations of the world, and the 9th-century buildings of Venice. Of course, it's impossible to rank these spots-how can you say, for example, that the Great Barrier Reef is more (or less) important than the Amazonian jungle? Instead, we put together a timeline that shows just how quickly we could lose these earthly wonders if we don't act now. Yes, this is a sobering read, but the silver lining is that youcanmake a difference-here's how (and how to visit responsibly if you so choose).  


By the year 2100, we could lose...


Antarctica has no permanent residents, but its existence (or lack thereof) has major implications for everyone on earth. Over the past 50 years, temperatures in parts of the continent have jumped between 5 and 6 degrees F—a rate five times faster than the global average. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report predicting sea levels would rise between seven and 23 inches by 2100. One caveat: the numbers didn't account for Antarctica's rapid ice melt. Now, researchers believe the sea could shoot up three to six feet by the end of the century. Antarctica's ice cap holds 70 percent of the freshwater on Earth; if it melts, the oceans could rise 187 feet, decimating entire island nations worldwide (the Maldives, for example). Antarctica's wildlife is also at risk. Krill are essential to the marine food chain—fish, seals, and whales eat them—but the shrimp-like crustaceans' numbers have dropped 80 percent since the 1970s, disrupting the whole ecosystem.

Donate: Comprised of more than 30 NGOs worldwide, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition pushes initiatives like tourism regulation, and sustainable fishing.

Go green: G Adventures, a sustainability minded tour operator based in Canada, offers a 13-day Antarctica cruise staffed by historians and marine biologists aboard the M/S Expedition. 888/800-4100, From $4,999 per person.

Venice, Italy

One of the world's most beautiful, historic, and romantic cities is built on water—and it could soon find itself under it. Rising ocean levels resulting from global warming are a threat to the low-lying Venice, which is made up of 118 small islands on a lagoon that sits at sea level. Flooding from the Adriatic Sea's high tides has become dire in the last 60 years. In 1900, Piazza San Marco, Venice's central square, flooded seven times; in 2002, the number jumped to 108. The ocean's salt water eats away at Venice's historic buildings, among them the opulent Palazzo Ducale, which dates back to the 9th century. Floodgates are being built around the city, but they're not scheduled to begin operation until 2015. Water isn't the only thing flooding the city. Twenty million tourists visit the city annually, which encourages harmful real-estate development and jams Venice's waterways with traffic. Advocacy group Venice in Peril estimates that the city may be largely unlivable as early as next century.

Donate: Since 1966, Venice in Peril has spearheaded research on how to protect the city from flooding, as well as worked to restore Venice's monuments, buildings, and artwork.

Go green: If you really want to help Venice, don't visit. If you must go, though, go smart. Canonici de San Marco is a complex of eco tents eight miles outside of Venice, where you can bike in the countryside or take day-trips into the city (011-39/348-722-5577, From $157 per night including breakfast and transfers from the Mirano train station). The water that surrounds the city shaped its past-and is in control of its future. Laguna Eco Adventures offers tours of the lagoons on traditional wooden boats, powered by towering sails (011-39/329-722-6289, From $52 per person for a two to four-hour lagoon tour).


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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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