Five Endangered UNESCO World Heritage Sites to See Before They Disappear

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Angkor Wat, Cambodia: Not endangered anymore, but was once on the list

Angkor Wat, Cambodia: Not endangered anymore, but was once on the list

Choosing your next vacation destination is always thrilling; but for us, travel junkies, it can also be an overwhelming experience. With such a big, beautiful world to explore, where the heck do we go first?

Unfortunately, you may want to make certain destinations a priority. Below are a smattering of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in Danger, out of a total of 48 endangered sites for 2015. For varying and complicated reasons, these incredible attractions are at serious risk for drastically changing, deteriorating, or even worse, vanishing altogether (thanks a lot global warming!).

Luckily, Canada does not have any endangered sites (yet). So it’s timely to plan a trip outside Canada and get yourself to one of these destinations fast, before these precious heritage sites are going…going…gone.

1. Florida’s Everglades National Park

Photo: Chris Foster

Located at the southern tip of Florida, Everglades National Park has been called “a river of grass flowing imperceptibly from the hinterland into the sea.” It’s home to a plethora of birds and reptiles, as well as for endangered species, such as the manatee and the panther. And it’s ginormous: the park spans 1.5 million acres, crosses three counties, and has three entrances, one of which is located in Miami (The Shark Valley entrance).

But the Everglades are at risk of disappearing. Global warming has deteriorated the sensitive aquatic ecosystem; and the land is seriously threatened by the effects of human impact. For centuries, people have been draining, dredging, and developing the area, as well as introducing invasive species that have altered the ecosystem. Now, the entire area is half the size it was a century ago, and only a fifth of the Everglades is protected by the national park. See this incredible conservation area now before it’s changed forever.

Tip if you go: One of the best ways to learn and experience the park is participate in ranger-led activities. Rangers lead hikes, canoe trips, slough slogs, bicycle trips, tram tours, and campfire programs.

2. Belize’s Barrier Reef Reserve System

Photo: dronepicr

Photo: dronepicr

Charles Darwin once described this as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies.” The 190-mile-long Belize Barrier Reef has 100 types of coral and 500 species of fish (including the gentle whale shark), with just 90% of its species undiscovered. It’s also home to threatened species, including marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile.

But today, its days are numbered. As expected, tourists love visiting this area, but it puts pressure on fragile reef environments. And increasing sea levels and water temperatures from climate change threaten corals and marine animals, as well as the communities that depend on the reef for their livelihoods and food security. But the biggest threat? According to UNESCO, development is destroying the mangrove and marine ecosystems.

Tip if you go: Make sure to rigorously research tour operators, ensuring their commitment to sustainable and responsible tourism to the reef.

3. Old City Jerusalem and Its Walls

Old City JerusalemAs a holy city for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the Old City of Jerusalem has always been of great symbolic importance. Millions of tourists and pilgrims flock to visit its 220 historic monuments, such as including Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

But such heavy traffic comes at a cost: the ancient walls and monuments are gradually crumbling from tourism and lack of maintenance.

Tip if you go: Walk the Old City Walls, but leave no footprint behind. That means no garbage or graffiti.

4. Madagascar’s Rainforests of the Atsinanana

Photo: Julien Nakos

Photo: Julien Nakos

Home to some of the rarest species in the world – such as the lemur monkey – Madagascar’s Atsinanana rainforests are so unusual that scientists have dubbed it the “eighth continent.” Comprised of six national parks along the eastern part of the island, it’s estimated that 85% of the island’s 12,000 species of flowering plants are found nowhere else in the world.

Unfortunately, it’s also on the hit list for extinction. Since the arrival of humans 2,000 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90% of its original forest cover and many of its endemic species. Illegal logging and hunting are threatening the site, and now, it has the greatest number of critically endangered primates of any country in the world.

Tip if you go: To help preserve the rainforest, consider visiting another area of Madagascar, such as isle of Nosy Komba Island.

5. Honduras’ Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve

Photo:  Dennis Garcia

Photo: Dennis Garcia

Located on the watershed of the Río Plátano, the reserve is one of the few remains of a tropical rainforest in Central America and has diverse flora and fauna. In its mountainous landscape sloping down to the Caribbean coast, the reserve houses Ciudad Blanca – an important Maya site – as well as over 2,000 Indigenous peoples.

But there’s a lot happening in the area that puts this reserve at risk: logging, fishing and land occupation, as well as poaching and poor maintenance. The lawlessness and to the presence of drug traffickers has made governance and enforcement difficult. It ain’t good and there’s a lot to lose, including 1,900 square miles of rainforest.

Tip if you go: Hire a local guide from La Ruta Moskitia, an organization of six Indigenous communities that have developed ecotourism tours within the Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve. It’s 100% community-owned and operated, and therefore all of the financial benefits go directly to local communities.

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