Climate Change: Bucket List at Risk?

Climate change and global warming is a complicated and contentious issue, fought over by conservationists and conspiracy theorists alike. However, the evidence isn’t easy to escape: average global temperatures are at an all-time high, and continuing on an upwards trend. A recent United Nations report has highlighted several World Heritage sites which are at increasing risk from warming weather patterns, several of which are our favourite places on the planet. We’ve put together a climate change bucket list of destinations, which may not be around as we know and love them for much longer.

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef barely needs an introduction; one of the seven natural wonders of the world, it is home to hundreds of marine species and some of the most colourful coral in the sea. However, due to a combination of natural and man-made factors, much of the reef is turning the wrong colour; warming, increasingly acidic waters and a plague of predators have caused extensive coral bleaching as a consequence of environmental stress.

Warm weather patterns may also increase the frequency and severity of cyclones which cause widespread damage to the coral cover.

Around 90% of the coral is thought to be affected in some degree, but it’s not all doom and gloom; only a much smaller fraction of this is thought to be severe or irreparable damage, and efforts are well underway to protect and preserve the remaining reef.

Still, there’s no denying it’s in danger – best tick this one off the bucket list while some of the best scuba diving on the planet is still available.


The Galapagos

 Having fascinated biologists and geologists since Charles Darwin landed in 1835, the Galapagos Islands are one of the most sought-after destinations in the world. The incredible diversity of wildlife, especially the unusually high number of native species on both land and sea such as the Giant Tortoise, Galapagos Sea Lion, and the Galapagos Penguin, and the raw natural landscape are the main draw for visitors looking to explore the “last paradise on earth”.

However, the tiny archipelago is starting to creak under the weight of its own fame and fortune, as it struggles to balance the difficult relationship between tourism and conservation. The original management plan for the islands, drawn up in 1973, established a maximum of 12,000 visitors annually; in 2013, 205,000 people visited the Galapagos.

The islands are also under threat from rising water temperatures, pollution and over-fishing; soon, it looks as though the only way to protect these unique and unusual islands is by strictly capping or controlling tourist numbers.

Thankfully, we’ve found an exquisite eco-retreat, Pikaia Lodge, with serious conservation credentials making it the perfect place to explore this natural paradise with minimal impact. Read about Pikaia Lodge here.


Venetians have faced floods and troubled with tides throughout the hundreds of years of the city’s history, but is under increasing and immediate threat from rising sea levels due to global warming on an entirely new scale; the city itself is sinking – albeit very slowly – into the sea.

It’s going to be submerged anytime soon, but it remains one of the World Heritage sites most at risk from rising water. The city finds itself torn in a vicious cycle between visitors and Venetians; tourism brings an indispensable income, but daily visitors now match the local population for numbers, and the delicate infrastructure is struggling to support them.

A huge prevention project comprising a series of 79 floodgates distributed across the city is now in place to protect Venice from future significant tidal flooding from the Adriatic Sea. However, little can be done to prevent water levels in the lagoon itself from continuing to rise; keeping the barriers closed for too long poses a significant pollution risk.

Plans are being drawn up to temper the impact of tourism – we think it’s a good idea to get there before drastic measures are put in place.

The Maldives

Picture the most perfect island paradise imaginable, and you’ve just imagined the Maldives. It’s the quintessential tropical scene; sugar-soft golden sands between sea and sky in shades of barely believable blue.

However, one of the world’s most beautiful countries is also one of its lowest; at an average of 1.5m above sea level, the Maldives are facing a very real danger posed by rising sea levels. So much so, that former president Mohammed Nasheed has predicted that the nation will be underwater in the next two decades if environmental damage continues at its current rate.

To make his point clear, he held a cabinet meeting to send a message ahead of a UN summit on climate change. Nothing unusual about that, except this cabinet meeting was held six metres underwater.

The jury is out on whether the imminent danger is really that drastic, but the Maldives are already feeling the effects of warming ocean waters; almost two-thirds of the archipelago’s coral reefs have reportedly been bleached as a result of high temperatures.

Given its status as a dream diving destination, this seems drastic enough to us – sounds like just the reason you need to book that beach break.


Hoi An, Vietnam

The beautifully preserved World Heritage site of Hoi An provides a picturesque and authentic vision of life in a traditional Asian trading port. It is known as Vietnam’s culinary capital – no mean feat considering the phenomenal food found up and down the country – and is a popular option for visitors looking for some respite from hectic Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.

However, much like the Maldives, this low-lying coastal town is at increasing risk from climate change. Rising temperatures mean rising sea-levels, and increased severity of storm surges; in a place already prone to flooding during the rainy season, this is a cause for concern.

The increase in total rainfall is only predicted to be a moderate rise between now and 2100, but the depth of flooding is likely to increase significantly even with this small change, leaving large parts of the city at risk.

However, plans are in place; by 2020, a comprehensive forecasting and monitoring system for extreme climactic events is expected to be completed, and coastal defences and reinforcements are being rolled out. Still, there’s no time like the present; Cui Dai beach, a favourite high-end hangout, is already losing between 10 and 20 metres of land a year to coastal erosion, so best get there before the sand becomes the sea.

Arctic Circle

The Arctic Circle is the epicentre for the arguments surrounding climate change; polar bears and penguins are the poster children for the effects of global warming. The effects of a warming planet are most exaggerated here, as the poles are more sensitive to rising temperatures; ice melts to reveal darker land underneath, which absorbs more of the sun’s energy and amplifies the warming effect to almost twice the global average.

Sea ice is in decline, permafrost is melting, glaciers are receding; all of which carry significant implications for the planet, as the Arctic plays a key role in global climate. Melting glaciers and ice sheets can affect ocean currents, sea levels, ecosystems, habitats, and breeding grounds, while the thawing permafrost will release more methane into the atmosphere.

Not all of the implied consequences are negative: less ice means more shipping routes, increasing transport and access to resources, while warmer temperatures mean more vegetation activity, which in turn can absorb more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, scientists are certain that in a few decades, the Arctic will be unrecognisable – the only real debate is how much ice will have melted.


Watching tigers in the wild

OK, so this one isn’t entirely to do with global warming, nevertheless, tigers, the biggest and most beautiful of all big cats, are under serious pressure in the wild. Destruction of their natural habitat for agriculture, logging and other developments has restricted their range to just 7% of their historic territory.

Poaching is also a persistent and prolific threat; tiger parts are in relentless demand for use in traditional medicines and remedies, especially in Asia. In 2010, there were an estimated 3,200 wild tigers left in the world, down from over 100,000 in 1900.

These numbers don’t make for pleasant reading, but a recent global census has delivered some positive and promising news, counting 3,980 tigers in the wild. Experts are stopping short of saying the actual numbers are rising – rather, methods used to measure the population are improving – but nevertheless, the trend is definitely moving in the right direction. 2,226 of these beautiful cats are roaming reserves in India; Bandhavgarh National Park boasts the highest density of Royal Bengal tigers in the world, as well as one of our favourite safari lodges, Samode Safari Lodge. Sounds like a winning combination to us.