Climate change, human activity, and other environmental factors are causing some of the world’s most beautiful natural tourist destinations to disappear at an alarming rate. From coral reefs to glaciers to pristine islands, many of these places are also unique natural habitats, often sustaining endemic forms of life not found anywhere else on Earth.
10. Snow-Capped Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
At about 5,895 meters – or 19,340 feet – Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the highest mountain in Africa. A lot has been said and written about its permanent ice cap, as it’s also one of the only three glaciers found on the continent. The snow, combined with the postcard African backdrop, give the place an otherworldly vibe, though that may be about to change very soon.
Much like glaciers everywhere else, climate change is rapidly contributing towards its decline. Deforestation in the nearby jungle is another big problem, as it’s rapidly reducing the amount of moisture in the air and causing the ice cap to shrink at an even faster rate. By one estimate, the mountain lost anywhere between six and 17 feet of ice between the years 2000 and 2009, and the same report estimated that it could completely disappear by 2022. While that hasn’t happened yet, the snow on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro is still melting at an alarming rate of about 1.6 feet every year, and may even completely disappear by 2040.
Bangladesh falls on the delta formed by the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers in Asia, two of which are among the longest rivers on the continent. Due to its geography, the country is home to many river and delta cultures, as well as one of the most fertile soils in the region. Sadly, it’s also on the frontline of climate change and rising sea levels, and might just be one of the first countries to be significantly underwater before long.
The government of Bangladesh estimates that nearly 17% of the country will be submerged by the year 2050 if sea levels continue to rise at the current rate. The capital city, Dhaka, would probably go under by 2100, putting tens of millions of people at risk.
While the government is taking steps to adapt to the changing situation – like building coastal embankments and relocating people to higher grounds wherever they can – it’s still a huge challenge due to the country’s high and dense population.
8. Dead Sea, Israel
The Dead Sea is actually a salt lake located at the lowest point on Earth, somewhere between Israel and Jordan. It’s known for its high salt content, which makes it impossible for fish and other forms of marine life to survive. The water of the lake is also believed to have therapeutic properties, making it a popular tourist destination for medical purposes.
If you haven’t seen it, now would be the right time to plan a trip, as the Dead Sea is also shrinking at an alarming rate. The primary cause is a massive loss of waterflow from one of its major sources, the Jordan River, due to some natural and geo-political causes. Additionally, the extraction of minerals from the lake and its shores is further harming the entire ecosystem, which might disappear entirely if it’s not protected in the near future.
7. Cook Islands
Cook Islands are an independent island state made up of 15 small islands located between Hawaii and New Zealand. Often called one of the most pristine locations in the world, the chain offers everything from untouched white-sand beaches to lush green mountains, even if reaching there might take a while due to its remote location. If Cook Islands are anywhere on your bucket list, now would be a good time to strike it off, as there’s a good chance that they wouldn’t exist for much longer.
Like most other low-lying island chains we know of, Cook Islands are threatened by rising sea levels and carbon emissions in other parts of the world. With an expected sea-level increase of about 55 centimeters – or about 21 inches – by 2090, the small country is looking at an acute, existential crisis in the near future.
6. Sequoia Forests, USA
Native to California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, giant sequoia trees are known for their huge, almost-unearthly size, as some could even reach heights of over 300 feet. They’re also one of the longest-living tree species in the world, with some specimens believed to be over 3,000 years old.
Like most other plant species in the region, these sequoia forests are directly threatened by the alarmingly-high number of wildfire cases in the past few years. Between 2015 and 2021, more than 85 percent of all giant sequoia groves were lost to wildfires, compared to about 25% in roughly one century before it. The 2022 wildfire season was devastating for the forest, too, though we’re yet to calculate the full extent of the damage. With wildfire seasons only getting longer and more extreme with time, sequoia forests are looking at complete destruction in the coming decades without any solid plans to protect them.
5. Indonesian Archipelago
The Indonesian Archipelago is the fifth largest collection of islands in the world, with at least 17,500 islands of all sizes making up its vast area. Stretching from mainland Asia to the islands of Papua New Guinea, it’s one of the most biodiverse regions we know of. It’s also home to many ethnically and culturally-diverse communities, making it one of the best travel destinations in the world.
Unfortunately, the unique topography of the archipelago also makes it particularly prone to the worst effects of climate change, especially rising sea levels. According to recent estimates by Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency, at least 115 islands are at an immediate risk of sinking – a number that’s only set to increase in the coming years. By 2050, more than 1,500 islands could be entirely underwater, and that includes densely populated areas like Java Island.
4. Congo Basin, Multiple Countries
At about 500 million acres spread across six countries in Africa, the Congo Basin is the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest after the Amazon. Unsurprisingly, it’s home to a mind-boggling number of plant and animal species, many of which are endemic to this region. Like the Amazon, the rainforests of the Congo Basin act as a huge carbon sink, playing a critical role in the regulation of the Earth’s climate.
Sadly, the Congo Basin is also at a very real risk of disappearance within decades. Much of the forest cover has been converted for agricultural purposes, mostly to grow cash crops like oil, rubber, and timber. Other activities like mining, infrastructure development, and illegal logging are also contributing to its rapid demise, which doesn’t just threaten the lives of the people living there, but the whole world, as these forests are absolutely crucial for fighting global warming. At the current rate, the Congo Basin is set to lose at least 27% of its cover by 2050, according to a recent report.
3. Swiss Alps, Switzerland
By one estimate, the Swiss Alps have lost more than half of their total volume in less than a hundred years – a phenomenon that’s only accelerating every year with rising temparatures. By another estimate, the region is set to lose more than half of its 4,000 glaciers by 2050, and about two-thirds by 2100, and that’s even if all global carbon emissions are brought to an absolute zero by that time.
While most glacial areas face a somewhat similar outcome, the Swiss Alps are in a particularly dire situation, as the glaciers here are warming up twice as fast as anywhere else. According to the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network, the melt rate in 2022 was found to be higher than any other time in recorded history, thanks to the acute heat wave experienced across Europe in the same year.
2. Cape Floral Region, South Africa
The Cape Floral Region in South Africa is classified as a biodiversity hotspot due to its rich and diverse plant life. It’s home to over 9,000 plant species, of which nearly 70% are endemic to the region. Thanks to the unique combination of a Mediterranean-like climate, favorable geology, and fertile soil type in this region, it’s one of the most beautiful natural destinations one can hope to visit, even if that might not be the case for very long.
The Cape Floral Region is currently experiencing a significant loss of plant species due to human activities like agriculture and urbanization, along with other problems like the proliferation of invasive species in the region. A recent study found that the area has lost over 40% of its plant species since 1900, which is a staggering rate of about three species a year. That’s about 500 times faster than the background extinction rate – or the natural rate at which species go extinct – making it one of the many current hotspots of plant extinction in the world.
1. Everglades, USA
The Everglades is a vast wetland ecosystem spread across central and southern Florida. It’s one of the most biologically-diverse places in America, as it’s home to a diverse array of animals including alligators, panthers, bottlenose dolphins, and hundreds of species of birds. It’s also an important source of freshwater for the surrounding areas, playing a crucial role in the local ecology and economy.
As of now, the entire region is facing a number of existential threats due to saltwater intrusion caused by rising sea levels, which could severely affect its freshwater ecosystem. The mangroves that protect the marshes from the sea are threatened by climate change, human activity, and other factors. By one estimate, the ecosystem has shrunk by half due to construction projects like dams and canals, as the human population in southern Florida now exceeds six million people.