What Natural Wonders Do I Need to See Before They Are Lost to Global Warming?
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It seems like the list of natural wonders withering under the ravages of climate change gets longer every day—from the shrinking snow atop Mount Kilimanjaro to the dying Great Barrier Reef. Many will be gone, or nearly extinct, within the coming decades, so the clock is ticking on your chance to see them. The list below is a sampling of some of nature’s most imperiled treasures. Catch them while you can.
The glaciers sugarcoating the Matterhorn’s iconic 14,690-foot jagged peak on the Swiss-Italian border are vanishing at a fast rate—and the thaw has increased the size and scope of rock and boulder falls on its slopes. If the trend continues, the entire shape of the mountain could be altered dramatically as it disintegrates. The threats facing the Matterhorn are symbolic of the challenges to the Alps as a whole. The mountain range’s glaciers are shrinking by 3 percent annually, and could disappear within four decades.
Climb: Alpine Ascents leads nine-day Matterhorn summit climbs for experienced alpinists for $6,500.
The Maldives, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean that consists of more than 1,100 islands (over 200 of which are habitable), is the planet’s lowest nation, at about five feet above sea level on average. Rising sea levels of a couple of feet could swamp it, forcing its 380,000 residents to relocate. For that reason, the government has plans to begin buying land in neighboring countries like India.
Stay: The affordable, locally run Asseyri Tourist Inn on four-mile-long, half-mile-wide Hanimaadhoo island in the northern Maldives gives you a true taste of the country’s culture and precarious situation in nature. Four-night packages start at $1,078.
Glacier National Park
The U.S. measuring stick for global warming has long been the spectacular, million-acre Glacier National Park in Montana. In the mid-19th century, the area was home to 150 glaciers; today, that number is down to 26. Scientists predict that they could all be gone by 2030.
Backpack: Glacier Guides is the park’s lone licensed guided-backpacking service. Their three-day backcountry trips cost $495 per person.
Central America’s Mesoamerican Reef
Although most of the world’s attention has been focused on the damage climate change has caused to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, devastation to the Mesoamerican Reef has been just as alarming. Stretching 600 miles, from the Yucatán Peninsula to Honduras, this underwater fin of coral and mangrove forests shelters hundreds of species of fish and other underwater animals. But overfishing, pollution, shipping, stronger storms, and warmer seas have damaged a sizable percentage of the reef, killing off coral.
Dive: The five-star, PADI-certified White Sands Dive Shop on Ambergris Caye in Belize leads one-tank dive trips on the barrier reef for $55.
That’s right: colorful, milkweed-eating monarch butterflies are falling victim to the changing climate. In 2012, a record-low 60 million of them migrated all the way to Mexico for the winter; last year, that total is estimated to have dropped to a shocking 33 million. According to the Washington Post, the culprits in this rapid population decline are believed to include deforestation, the use of herbicides and the destruction of milkweed habitat by agricultural practices in the U.S. Midwest, and the recent drought and extreme storms hitting Texas and Mexico.
View: Natural Habitat Adventures operates six-day trips, led by naturalists, to the heart of the monarch butterfly’s breeding grounds in Angangueo, Mexico, a village among the volcanic mountains at the country’s geographic center. The cost is $2,995.