Famous tourist destinations being impacted by climate change
We've all heard about the harmful effects of global warming on the world's plants, animals, and other environmental elements, but there's another, less obvious component that suffers, too: tourism. Some of the world's most beautiful places are the same ones most threatened by climate change. Interestingly, the imminent threat of global warming to tourist sites echoes history. For example, in 2018 scientists from the University of Sydney discovered that climate change was a key factor in the crumbling and demise of Angkor Wat—a tourist site in Cambodia and cradle of the ancient Khmer empire. In Greenland, similarly, the Ruins of Hvalsey and other tourist attractions are the remnants of Viking societies that scientists believe were likely destroyed by climate change.
So how does climate change lead to these devastating consequences? It's perhaps easiest to consider in terms of immediate and secondary consequences. Most obviously, as the Earth heats up, glaciers and ice caps melt. This causes immediate and easily identifiable impacts such as land shrinking—we've all seen the photos of the polar bears stranded at sea without food or habitats in which to roam. But there are other, less obvious consequences, too, most of which have to do with rising sea levels. As the ice melt-off runs into the ocean, the water rises everywhere, flooding wetlands, eroding coastlines, and over-salinating the soil. Not only that, the freshwater changes the temperature and composition of the water, shaking up marine ecosystems and disrupting how ocean water circulates worldwide. Coral dies off and large swaths of marine life suffer. Plus, the air temperature rises too because ice is reflective—without it more heat can penetrate the atmosphere. This causes further destruction of land habitat and increased natural disasters such as storms, wildfires, and flooding.
It's a complex blend of interwoven factors and one that affects tourist destinations with particular force. Further complicating things, tourism itself contributes to climate change, so in many ways it is a cycle. The World Tourism Organization, for example, says tourism is directly responsible for responsible for about 5% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Ironically, the places many tourists are saddest to see disappearing are victims of that very industry.
To give you an idea of the scope of the issue, Stacker has created a slideshow of the 25 most famous tourist destinations that are impacted by climate change. Each place has been confirmed by a minimum of two authoritative sources to be at risk from climate change-related threats. Take a look so that if any of them are on your bucket list, you can plan a trip before it's too late.
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Fiji is a stunning island in the South Pacific that attracts tourists to its pristine waters every year for world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. However, the coastal regions have begun eroding due to rising sea levels caused by climate change. As the saltwater seeps into the land, it's devastating local farmers and displacing locals. On top of that, increasing tropical cyclones have ravaged the island which many scientists attribute to climate change. “Unless the world acts decisively to begin addressing the greatest challenge of our age, then the Pacific, as we know it, is doomed,” said Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who is also the president of the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP23).
The Amazon rainforest is a lush tropical jungle encompassing more than 2 million square miles in South America. Home to 10% of the world's known species, its biodiversity draws tourists to nine different countries to see it. Yet rising temperatures have threatened those very animals. Last year, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned that half of the wildlife in the Amazon could disappear in the next 50 years.
“Within our children's lifetime, places like the Amazon and Galapagos Islands could become unrecognizable,” said WWF CEO Tanya Steele. Meanwhile, the tree species are shifting composition to adapt to the environment, but can't do it fast enough to keep pace, according to a University of Leeds-led study, which collaborated with 100 scientists from over 30 organizations globally.
Set atop Salisbury Plain in England, Stonehenge draws roughly 1.5 million visitors to its giant stone circles. Yet UNESCO warned in 2016 that the prehistoric monument is in danger due to rising sea levels, more intense storms, and a deteriorating coastline of which 17% is already eroding throughout the U.K. “Climate change will alter the environmental conditions at these monuments and their associated landscapes,” the report stated.
Alaska's rugged peaks, rushing rivers, and beautiful terrain make for an awe-inspiring tourist destination filled with bears, fish, moose, bison, and other wildlife. Between cruise ships and land entries, nearly 2 million people visited the northern state in 2016. However, it is currently among the most vulnerable destinations in the world to climate change, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Threats include deteriorating coastlines, melting ice caps, crumbling roads, and trees growing in areas that used to be tundra. Not only that, the wildlife are suffering too, some at risk of going extinct. “Alaska is on the front lines of climate change and is among the fastest-warming regions on Earth,” the report stated. “It is warming faster than any other state, and it faces a myriad of issues associated with a changing climate.”
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Few places on Earth have more quickly witnessed the effects of climate change than the Great Barrier Reef, which has suffered an 89% decrease in new coral, according to a report released April 2019 and published in the journal Nature. The giant reef, which sits off the northern coast of Australia, attracts more than 2 million tourists every year and generates $4 to 5 billion in tourism revenue (about $5 to $6 billion in Australian dollars). The reef system, which includes almost 3,000 individual reefs stretched over 900 islands, is currently dying rapidly from climate-induced factors including heat stress and consecutive bleaching events.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Situated in western Zimbabwe near Hwange National Park, the mighty Victoria Falls—considered the largest waterfall in the world—spans more than half a mile wide, sending torrents of water down its 300-foot cliffs. The mist is so massive it sprays 1,300 feet in the air and can be seen from 30 miles away. Yet sadly for the tourist destination, the Global Climate Risk Index ranked Zimbabwe #2 in the world last year. The metric, which analyzes weather-related loss, serves as a vulnerability warning in “regions where extreme events will become more frequent or more severe due to climate change.” On top of extreme weather, serious droughts caused by climate change have caused the waterfall's flows to begin dropping, according to a United Nation climate change panel.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Nestled in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Machu Picchu drew 1.5 million tourists to the famous Inca ruins in 2018. However, conservationists are worried that the site could be damaged if climate change continues to affect the weather. Historically fairly dry, the citadel has seen increasingly heavy rains that sparked Peru's protected areas advisor to express concern: “Machu Picchu normally gets about two metres of rain in the rainy season...imagine if this is doubled or tripled? Everything would get soaked and everything would get destroyed.” On top of that, the region is vulnerable to forest fires, floods, and landslides.
Key West, Florida
Sunshine-drenched Key West, an island that sits off the tip of Florida's southern coast, is a popular cruise ship stop and tourist hotspot that boasts beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. The pastel-colored city is within the Florida Keys, which in a 2017 op ed for The Guardian, author Joanna Guthrie referred to as "the canaries in the climate-change coal mine." Some observers question whether it's too late to save the island from rising sea levels. A study by the Nature Conservancy found that Big Pine Key will be underwater within decades, noting that even the most conservative scenario would mean “dramatic changes in habitat for plants and animals” by 2100.
Petra, an ancient archaeological site in the Jordanian desert, is known as the “Rose City” due to its sweeping sandstone cliffs. Thought to have been the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom, it attracts visitors every year to its mysterious and beautiful temples. But unfortunately for the UNESCO World Heritage Site, it sits near the Dead Sea, a quickly evaporating body of water that's ranked as one of the most vulnerable places on earth when it comes to climate change. Last year, 12 people were killed and 3,500 tourists were evacuated amid flash flooding, and thousands of sinkholes have appeared over the last 15 years. “The salt lake has shrunk by almost a third in the last two decades, due to lower rainfall, higher temperatures leading to increased evaporation, and water being siphoned off from the River Jordan,” Douglas Broom wrote for the World Economic Forum.
Antarctica is one of the tourist destinations where the impact of climate change is perhaps the most obvious. The air temperature on the southernmost continent, which hosted 50,000 tourists in 2018, has increased by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit—five times the mean rate of global warming, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Glaciers are retreating, ice shelves are collapsing, and krill numbers have plummeted. As the latter occurs, whale, leopard seal, and penguin populations are affected. For example, a 2018 study by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources found the penguin population may drop by one-third by 2100.2018 All rights reserved.