More and more, the plight of the planet rests in our collective hands. Here are three magnificent hotspots that may well become folklore in the future if nothing is done to stop their decline.
Diving in the Maldives one day, a group of marine researchers seek out what was once a multitude of atolls, 26 of them to be exact, containing some 1,190 islands. The atolls used to provide recreational divers and honeymooners alike with an abundance of marine ecological beauty to explore and enjoy. Now, they are all submerged deep, like a modern day Atlantis…
This scary portrait of the beautiful Republic of Maldives, may be fiction now, but for how long will that remain the case? As the lowest lying country on earth, flooding and climate change threaten its very existence. A rising sea level is likely to worsen existing environmental stresses such as storm surges and scarcity of drinking water. Moderate global warming scenarios project Maldives could experience sea level increases of 1.5 feet – half a metre – and a loss of 77 percent of its land area by 2100 – and if nothing is done, it’s expected to be completely under water before the end of this century.
Global warming and climate change are not just buzzwords anymore; they are actively impacting the world whether we like it or not. For those of us who relish in the thrill of travel and the splendour of nature, the possibility of witnessing the demise of geographically significant sites in our lifetime is as distressing as it is alarming.
If there’s a silver lining in the ongoing pandemic it’s that the resulting widespread restrictions to global travel have given travellers time to stop and think about where we want to go next. Destinations like the ones spotlighted below may be worth considering, if only to have the pleasure of standing on an atoll or sandy coast to reflect on how precious life on our planet is.
HOPE SPOT IN MALDIVES
If you find yourself reflecting on remote Laamu Atoll in the southern Maldives, you’ll be doing it on one of the 85 areas around the world designated as a Hope Spot. Hope Spots are locations identified as critical to the health of the oceans by a council of scientists from Mission Blue, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to marine protection.
The Hope Spots have also been proven to hold significant ecological, economic and cultural importance, and thus the potential to reverse damage from negative human impact. From its rich reefs, vast seagrass meadows and culturally significant mangroves, Laamu Atoll ticked all the boxes for Mission Blue as an area worthy of the highest protection. It is also here that you will find Six Senses Laamu, a nature-inspired retreat that’s behind a host of local marine conservation initiatives safeguarding the surrounding natural resources.
Like many islands in the Maldives, Laamu is secluded and serene. However, it is also near the Malé International Airport, and so visitors are able to get here quickly after a long flight. Villas literally stand on stilts and fan out across the edges or beachfront of the island, each offering a different take on nature’s finest blues and greens. Wander through this network of liveliness to find restaurants such as Leaf, a Mediterranean farm-to-table experience that uses ingredients grown in Laamu’s own gardens or on neighbouring islands.
A Chill Bar at the edge of a reef where one can dip in for a snorkel and up for a cocktail is a refreshing experience, but for sea and nature lovers it has so much more to offer: exploring uninhabited islands, meandering undersea coral reefs and swimming alongside its multitude of colourful marine life, or even just lying there on its soft white sand, contemplating and reconnecting with the self. It’s an experience in danger of vanishing in our lifetime, much in the same way the coasts of the British Isles are also on the brink of extinction.
ERODING COASTS OF SCOTLAND
More than 600 years of history that many believe also denotes the beginnings of golf is in danger of being lost within this century if nothing is done to stop carbon emissions that continuously erode the ozone layer that acts as a worldwide screen to the sun’s rays.
Climate science research organisation Climate Central predicts that parts of St Andrews Links, considered the traditional “Home of Golf”, could be underwater within 30 years, and together with that, an age-old sporting legacy.
In 2018 The R&A, one of golf’s governing bodies, launched Golf Course 2030, an initiative to address the challenges posed by global warming, with a particular focus on coastal change. “If you look at the landscape that we are in, it’s quite low-lying, it’s quite near the sea, and it is going to be vulnerable,” a spokesperson for St Andrews Links says. “Golf has been played here for 600 years. It should still be played here hundreds of years from now.”
For those fortunate enough to get a spot on the Old Course, stepping up to that first tee is an awe-inspiring experience, one wracked with nerves and haunted by the ghost of golf pioneer Old Tom Morris. In that moment the greater consciousness of hundreds of years and thousands of like-minded sojourners who have stood at that same spot, feeling that same tinge of excitement and fear, will envelop you.
Now, imagine yourself traversing the world famous Swilcan Bridge, past the Valley of Sin and towards the 18th green, and wondering where this will be in 30 years. It is a frightful thought for all golfers but one that can very well happen if the warming planet continues to erode the natural dunes that have shaped the 600-year-old links.
So why are we experiencing climate change? The northern reaches of the planet hold the answers.
THE GREAT ARCTIC MELT
The Arctic polar region is comprised in part by sea ice that forms, expands, and melts throughout the year. But when carbon and pollutants are trapped in our atmosphere, they block the heat of the sun from being reflected back into space, and thus gradually warm the Arctic. This cycle of warming and melting disrupts sea ice composition and ocean circulation, thereby leading to changes in global climate. Even a small increase in temperature can lead to greater warming over time, making the polar regions the most sensitive areas to climate change on Earth. The first to feel the full impact? Coastal lands like the Maldives and the Scottish linksland.
In the bigger picture, approximately 10 percent of the world’s population – or 790 million people – live on coasts. Research by Matthew H Nash, co-founder of The Swiftest, a research firm focused on important social and environmental analytics, found that as many as 36 cities across the world will be submerged if sea levels rise 1.5 metres, which could happen if global temperatures rise by three degrees Celsius.
Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Waikiki in Honolulu, Miami Beach in Florida, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) off Chile, Maldives, and Eifel in Germany are poised to drown first. Others like Tokyo, Mumbai, New York City, Istanbul, London, Alexandria, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta and Bangkok could follow.
Bangkok is sprawling and thick with people, more than 10 million of them to be exact, and a chaotic mess of traffic and concrete that for many visitors forms a certain sort of charm.
Travellers throng the streets of Bangkok for a taste of Thai culture on steroids; the ability to experience all that the Land of Smiles has to offer in one place has an addictive element that keeps people coming back.
From high-end living to budget-friendly accommodation, the city caters to both sets of travellers. The world’s finest hotel brands like St Regis, Kempinski, and Mandarin Oriental blend seamlessly with the renowned hospitality of local names like Dusit, Avani, and Anantara.
All travellers go to the weekend Chatuchak Market, the largest of its kind in the world, with over 15,000 stalls spread across 14 hectares in a tightly packed square. They also flock to the floating Damnoen Saduak Market for fresh produce, and visit the Chao Phraya River delta either on board an evening cruise or trawl its adjacent streets for various attractions, such as the Asiatique Riverfront restaurants or the temples of Dawn or The Reclining Buddha.
What people may not realise is that the river the Thai capital sits on is caught between the rising sea level – four millimetres per year – and land subsidence, or the digging up of groundwater, of up to two centimetres per year.
The 2011 monsoon season sent a warning of the kind of devastation that climate change and unsustainable development can cause to this vast city. That year the flooding lasted three months, killed over 800, and caused more than THB1.4 trillion (US$45 billion) in damage. However, to date, four out of the six projected areas earmarked for sustainable development have been sold to private developers for grey infrastructural work.
With this myopic mindset, any rise in sea level will result in another catastrophe, and one with far greater consequences than the great flood of 2011. At barely half a metre to two metres above sea level, and sinking at about three centimetres per year, Greenpeace predicts that if another coastal flood occurs in 2030, the combination of climate change, urbanisation, and subsidence will put almost all of Bangkok under water.
That’s just eight years from now. We have essentially created a planetary microwave, turned it on and walked away. The timer is ticking, the globe is warming up and at some point, we might all be cooked. Do we scramble to make our last visits to the places we love and dream of now, or do we take action to preserve these magnificent destinations and natural wonders for generations to come?