Places to visit – and protect
When places are well-known and popular – historical and modern alike – we might take it for granted that they’ll be around forever. But sadly, many of the world’s best known and culturally significant landmarks are in jeopardy. Human activity has had a devastating effect on many valued places, including massive milestones of human achievement. And many of these are so much more than just tourist attractions – they’re unique, valuable remnants of ancient times and civilizations.
The Great Barrier Reef
This massive, once-thriving coral reef has suffered enormously over recent years, with coral bleaching – caused by climate change – stripping the coral of its nutrients. This, in turn, harms the rich marine life that calls the reef home. And, of course, this also depletes it of the dazzling colours that once were a hallmark of the Great Barrier Reef’s underwater wonder. The reef remains the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world, but projections have warned that the damage to it could become irreversible in the next 10 years.
Old City of Jerusalem
One of the world’s most spiritually significant places, the Old City of Jerusalem, is in danger of disappearing, UNESCO has found. The walls of the Old City are one of its trademark features. Most famously, the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is a valuable pilgrimage site for people of the Jewish faith, one that dates back to around 20 BCE. The Wall is the only remnant of the city’s Second Temple. The city was actually listed on UNESCO’s list of endangered cultural sites in the 1980s. Widespread urbanisation has been found to pose a significant threat to the city.
Everglades National Park
This stunning Floridian wildlife sanctuary has sadly found itself fighting for its life in recent years. As ‘the largest designated subtropical wilderness reserve’ in North America, according to UNESCO, it’s been a beloved travel destination for American citizens for decades, but the ravages of time and human activity have not been kind to it. Its survival first came into question after it was battered by Hurricane Andrew in 1993. But it’s human influence that has posed the primary threat, as water flow to the site has decreased and the impacts of pollution have increased, resulting in harmful algal blooms. Its vast, diverse wildlife is more threatened than ever before.
The Taj Mahal
It’s hard to imagine this monolithic structure, located in Agra, India, being in danger. The structure itself is in some jeopardy from the elements, but the primary reason for concern is that the Indian Supreme Court could potentially close the attraction. The court has butted heads with the government, claiming that unless the government does a better job of preserving it, they’ll have to shut it down. Pollution is visibly altering the Taj’s pristine surface. It’s also experienced insect infestations. Flies of the genus Geoldichironomus, which breed in the heavily polluted Yamuna River, neighbouring the Taj, have encroached upon the structure in recent years.
Mount Kilimanjaro’s peak
This revered mountain, one of the Seven Summits, proves that even giants can fall to climate change. While the mountain itself, located in Tanzania, isn’t in imminent danger, its iconic snow cap might vanish – and shockingly soon. Research found that the snow cap had lost 85 per cent of the total area of its ice fields between 1912 and 2007, and the remaining ice could be history as early as 2030.
Located in southern Peru, Machu Picchu is the remains of a huge stone citadel that was built during the 15th century. These incredible Incan ruins are widely considered one of the must-see spots in South America. Unfortunately, this has backfired in a way. The site has been a victim of over-tourism, seeing the detrimental effects of the surge of tourists it gets as they wear down the structures. In addition, the area surrounding Machu Picchu has seen rampant urbanisation, as well as mudslides and fires, in recent years, leading UNESCO to work for its preservation.
Portobelo-San Lorenzo forts
While not as ancient as some of the other sites mentioned here, these fortifications on the Panama coast are considered historically significant. The Portobelo-San Lorenzo forts were constructed by the Spanish in Panama in efforts to protect trade routes; they were built over two centuries, starting in the 1590s. They demonstrate a wide range of architectural styles, featuring everything from medieval-style castles to neo-classical 18th-century redresses. The forts face a couple of challenges, urbanisation has encroached upon them on land, and a shrinking coastline and erosion present natural threats on the coastal side. Maintenance has also fallen by the wayside. They were listed as endangered in 2012.
These grand ruins stand in the Al-Jazīrah region of Baghdad, Iraq. As the capital of the first Arab Kingdom, Araba, Hatra is a site of massive historical significance. It withstood Roman military force in the second century CE. It was the king of the Sāsānian Empire, an early Iranian regime, who eventually destroyed it in the third century. The ruins went undiscovered until the 1830s; German archaeologists only began excavating it in the early 1900s. In addition to becoming a UNESCO world heritage site, Hatra was also immortalised as the temple featured in The Exorcist. Sadly, it became a target of ISIS in 2015. Militants assailed the structures with bullets and destroyed statues, seeking to dismantle remnants of polytheism. It was after this that UNESCO gave it an endangered status.
This remarkable architectural jewel of the ancient world dates back to the 1200s. It spans more than 100 islands and islets surrounding the Federated States of Micronesia, to the northeast of Papua New Guinea. Throughout the 1200s to the 1500s, indigenous people from the island of Pohnpei built an expansive ‘city on water’, constructing more than 100 man-made islets out of coral boulders and basalt. The stunning expanse, untouched for hundreds of years, is a testament to the ingenuity and skill of ancient Pacific Islander peoples. However, it’s the forces of nature this time that pose a danger to it as plants, storms and water damage encroach upon the impressive structures. It has been on UNESCO’s endangered sites list since 2016.
How to help
There are plenty of resources you can use to help preserve endangered spots like these. For starters, you could donate to UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre. UNESCO also gives citizens an option to report threats to protected sites (scroll to the bottom of this page for contact information. And if you choose to visit these spots, treat them with the utmost care! Be respectful, don’t touch anything you’re not explicitly allowed to touch, and do your part to keep the area clean.