Endangered Places Around the World

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I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Today we travel around the world visiting several endangered natural and cultural treasures.  Some places like Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Montana's Glacier National Park are threatened by the effects of climate change. Other places are slowly being damaged by pollution and careless visitors.

The book "Disappearing Destinations" explains more about these endangered places and suggests helpful ways to take action.Earlier this month, the Obama Administration called for increased protection of the world's most southern continent, Antarctica. Scientists say climate change and human activity have increasingly led to the melting of massive pieces of Antarctic ice.  The disappearance of ice will not only affect wildlife in the area such as seals and penguins. The melting will also cause oceans and seas around the world to rise.

This represents a major threat, especially to coastal areas. For example, the ancient city of Venice, Italy has long been threatened by rising sea levels. The situation is made worse by the fact that its ancient buildings, built on a body of water called a lagoon, are slowly sinking. When the city was founded about 1,600 years ago, the level of the Adriatic Sea was almost two meters lower than it is today.

Rising sea levels are not the only threat. The salty water is also destroying Venice's famous buildings and artworks. The Italian government is trying to fix the problem with the construction of a seven billion dollar system of moving flood barriers.

Climate change is also leading to the melting of ice in other areas, such as Mount Kilimanjaro in northeastern Tanzania. It is the highest point in Africa, measuring almost 6,000 meters. The mountain supports five vegetation zones and many kinds of animals.

The ice glaciers on the mountain are disappearing very quickly. This will have a bad effect on the mountain's ecosystems and on Tanzania's travel industry. Also, a valuable record of thousands of years of weather history will also be lost if the ice melts.  Scientists study pieces of glacier to understand weather patterns from thousands of years ago.

In the United States, the icy masses in Glacier National Park in Montana may soon completely disappear because of climate change. In 1850, there were an estimated 150 glaciers in the more than 400,000 hectare park.

There are 26 glaciers remaining today. Scientists estimate that the glaciers will be gone by 2030. Warming temperatures are also threatening the many kinds of plants and animals that live in this mountain ecosystem.Venice, Mount Kilimanjaro, Glacier National Park and other threatened places are described in detail in a book called "Disappearing Destinations: 37 Places in Peril and What Can Be Done to Help Save Them." Kimberly Lisagore and Heather Hansen published the book last year.

Both women are reporters who write about travel and the environment. Ms. Lisagore says they began to notice how rare it was to find travel writing that recognized environmental problems and solutions. So, the two writers made a list of places that people should see before those places disappear.

The writers tell about the good work being done by scientists and activists to protect each place. They wanted the book to be a hopeful call to action. Ms. Lisagore says their aim was to give travelers a more meaningful experience by educating them about the places they love to visit."Disappearing Destinations" is organized geographically by continental groupings. Some of the threatened places are very well known. For example, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the largest coral reef system in the world.

Rising sea temperatures are greatly harming the reef. In some areas, healthy yellow, brown and green reefs have become a bleached white color. The coral whitens when it becomes stressed by warmer temperatures and expels the algae organisms it needs to survive. Sick or dying coral affects the entire ecosystem of this special underwater area. Water pollution and visits by careless swimmers and divers also threaten the reef.

The famous Galapagos Islands, more than 900 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador, are also endangered. This protected area is known for its rich biodiversity of sea and land creatures. One threat to this area is the introduction of foreign plants and organisms. Foreign plants growing in the area can upset the balanced ecosystems of native plants and animals. In fact, today there are more foreign plant species on the islands than there are native plants. Increasing immigration and visits from travelers are also damaging the health of the islands.

"Disappearing Destinations" also discusses places that face environmental threats that are less well known. For example, the Napa Valley in the American state of California is famous for its fine wines. But rising temperatures are threatening the grape harvest and wine industry in the area. To be made into fine wine, some kinds of grapes must grow in a limited range of temperatures. As temperatures rise in Napa, producers may find it harder to produce wine of the same quality. However, rising temperatures have improved the wine harvest in cooler areas.

In the ancient forests of the Lapland area of Finland, many people in the Sami native group make a living raising reindeer. Sami have been raising reindeer in this area for hundreds of years. But intensive logging in this part of Finland has started to threaten the work and culture of this group. Finland's forestry agency cuts down trees that are very old because they earn the most money.

But this logging also ruins the areas where Sami bring their reindeer to feed. Some experts say only five percent of Finland's old-growth forest remains. Continued logging will not only affect the natural environment of this beautiful northern wilderness. It could also forever change the ancient way of life of the area's native Sami people.Many endangered places in "Disappearing Destinations" are cultural treasures. For example, hundreds of thousands of people a year visit the ancient buildings of Machu Picchu in Peru. These Incan buildings face severe damage if the number of visitors is not more carefully controlled.

And, in Mali, the famous city of Timbuktu was once a cultural capital of West Africa. But today, the climate is drying out the fertile grasslands. This change of climate threatens the local environment and the livelihoods of people living there. The desertification process also threatens Timbuktu's many ancient earth buildings. These buildings have influenced building designers around the world.Kimberly Lisagore says that she has been very pleased by the response of people who have read "Disappearing Destinations." She says she and Heather Hansen have heard from readers who no longer think of the places they visit as pictures on postcards that are frozen in time. Instead, the readers see these places as easily damaged and always changing.

Ms. Lisagore says some readers have decided to work harder to protect the environment. These people learned that the way they choose to live at home has far-reaching effects on the planet. The book also includes a list of organizations working to protect the endangered places described. So readers can learn more information about the groups that interest them. Readers can also learn more about traveling in ways that do not harm the places they visit.

Kimberly Lisagore says she is starting to see a more balanced travel relationship between tourists and the places they visit. She says Americans often take what a place has to offer and then go back home. Ms. Lisagore says it is important for travelers to realize that they are visiting a place that is someone's home. And, she hopes that more travelers of all nationalities will see themselves as ambassadors who have a long term responsibility to the places they visit.This program was written by Dana Demange. Mario Ritter was the producer. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. You can see pictures of these endangered places on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. You can also get transcripts and MP3 files.  Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.