Tourist sites threatened by climate change


Planning a beach vacation for the year 2100? The travel agent might suggest Dolphin Sands in Tasmania….because it may be one of the only remaining beaches on the planet.

This is if the sea level rises by one meter, the estimated output to current temperature models. Even with significant investment in sea defences, many of the world’s current coves are likely to be washed away or obliterated, effectively submerged by water as a result of melting polar ice caps.

A sharp and immediate reduction in greenhouse gases would limit sea level foam to only 50 cm. Although carbon dioxide emissions fell by 17% in April 2020 due to COVID-19, there is no guarantee that this will become permanent due to the policy change and the June 2019 Climate Action Tracker report shows that before the pandemic, we were producing more carbon dioxide emissions than ever before.

The general consensus of climatologists is that rising temperatures will make extreme weather events more frequent. Prolonged droughts and ferocious storms could lead to widespread flooding and regular wildfires (like those seen in Australia earlier this year), as well as the destruction of natural habitats. Unfortunately, the world’s most beloved tourist sites will not be immune to these environmental impacts either – and many will need our help to survive. Here are the main sites threatened by climate change.

The Great Barrier Reef is threatened by rising sea temperatures © Edward Haylan / Shutterstock

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Every five years, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reports on the current health of the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef system on the planet. The latest prognosis, published in 2019, does not seem positive. Climate change is circled in red as the most significant threat to the reef and extreme changes in sea temperatures were responsible for massive coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017.

Forests are nicknamed the “lungs of the earth”, and coral reefs are considered the ocean equivalent. But according to the United Nations Environment Authority (UNEP), more than half of the world’s reefs – which include systems in Belize and the Bahamas – are in danger of deteriorating. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C or less will save more than 10% of the world’s coral; to protect 50%, temperatures should not exceed 1.2 ºC.

An aerial view of a statue on an island with a city skyline behind
The Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and storm damage © Alija / Getty Images

Statue of Liberty, New York

It stands on Liberty Island as a symbol of freedom, but for the many immigrants who arrived in the United States via New York, the Statue of Liberty also represented hope. And it was that hazy optimism — plus an estimated $77 million in repairs — that gave Lady Liberty and nearby Ellis Island a new lease of life after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Sandy has been called a once-in-700-year storm, but as the mercury climbs globally, mathematicians may need to rethink those probabilities. The Union of Concerned Scientists believes that Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi’s sculpture is threatened by the increased intensity and increased frequency of storm surges. The US National Park Service, meanwhile, admits that Liberty National Monument’s low elevation makes it highly sensitive to sea level changes, which are rising four times faster on the Atlantic coast than on the rest of the US coastline.

Several giant white icebergs floating in still sea water
Icebergs calve from Ilulissat Glacier and congregate in Disko Bay © Andreas Altenburger / 500px

Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

Under the glow of the swirling purples and greens of the Northern Lights, the Ilulissat Icefjord is arguably Greenland’s most beautiful natural wonder. Fed by the growing Jakobshavn glacier, the icefjord creaks as it calves and weaves past the brightly colored houses of Ilulissat on the west coast of Danish territory.

But he is in trouble. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average and the loss of polar sea ice is a tangible physical manifestation of global warming. There is perhaps no sound more heartbreaking than the thunder of the frozen fjord crashing into the sea. space, but the 413 gigatonnes of ice we lose each year contribute directly to sea level rise.

A person wearing rubber boots walks through flood waters while walking towards an ornate building at the edge of a large plaza
Flooding in Venice is becoming more frequent as sea levels rise © nullplus / Getty Images

Venice, Italy

Venice is often associated with climate change as rising sea levels lead to greater flooding incidents in the city. Nearly 36 million visitors came to marvel at the splendor of this historic city built on the lagoon in 2019. With gilded basilicas, grand marble palaces, galleries filled with Renaissance drama and riverside promenades Slow romantic gondola through its canals, it is a remarkable destination to visit.

Regular floods, especially after exceptional high tides, are a real challenge for the city; one that was aggravated by the dredging of deep-water canals to allow cruise ships access to certain canals. According to the Venice Resilience Lab, the number of tides above 110cm has doubled every decade since the Great Flood of 1966.

In an effort to protect piazzas and architecture from water damage, the city has built three retractable locks across the main entrances to the lagoon since 2003. Overwhelmed with delays and funded at a cost of $6.5 billion dollars (according to the latest estimate available), the MOSE project should allow Venice to control the water levels of the lagoon when completed. However, a Unesco report suggests the gates will need to be used frequently to combat rising sea levels, before the barriers are eventually submerged.

Two marine iguanas stand on a rock near the sea
El Niño is a big threat to wildlife like the Galápagos Islands marine iguana © Kimberly Shavender / Shutterstock

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Connected by the equator, these extraordinary volcanic islands 1000 km west of the equator are home to one of the most fascinating yet delicate ecosystems on the planet. Sublime and eerie creatures mingle without too much – though sadly increasing – interference from humanity. Thus, a quarter of its 2,900 marine animals and a third of its native trichophyte plants remain endemic.

In addition to growing concerns about overfishing and the fight against invasive species, climate change is expected to have adverse consequences on the ecosystem. The acidification of warming oceans, changes in precipitation patterns and extreme weather conditions are likely to upset the balance of the islands.

According to UNEP, the biggest disruptor will be the El Niño weather pattern, a natural climate event that periodically warms sea surface temperatures. With climate change, the number of severe El Niño years is expected to double over the next next two centuries. The results could be disastrous for Galápagos’ depleted penguin and marine iguana populations, which have lost 75% and 90% of their numbers, respectively, to El Niño events since the 1980s.

An aerial view of a small sandy island covered in palm trees.  There is a wooden pier that extends to the reef at the edge of the island
Low-lying islands such as the Maldives are at risk when sea levels rise © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

The Maldives

The Maldives has long been the dream destination of honeymooners with deep pockets: a string of 1,200 white-sand islands, scattered across the Indian Ocean like a scattering of gold coins. Its warm cyan seas, coconut palms and shimmering coral reefs are nature’s paradise tonic to the man-made opulence of the country’s five-star plus hotels, not to lift a finger.

But the country has an elevation problem. Its highest natural point is the eighth tee of a golf course on Villingili Island which, just 5.1m above the waves, is unlikely to give anyone a nosebleed at high altitude. ; many of its other islands simply paddle over the waves. Sea level rise caused by a temperature increase of 2°C or more will likely submerge this atoll-based nation – along with other low-lying archipelagos, such as the Fijian Isles and the Marshall Islands.

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This article was originally published in November 2019 and was updated in May 2020.


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