The world is full of amazing places to visit. As a photographer, I have a bucket list of places to see and photograph. These include a number of the natural and man-made wonders many of us have read so much about all of our lives.
Unfortunately, the realities of climate change are putting many of these sites at risk of serious decline, or even of vanishing altogether.
On April 22, 2019, Earth Day marked its 49th observance since its inception in 1970. Born in an age of carbon belching cars and factories, CFC intense aerosols, and a largely unaware or uncaring populous; Earth Day was conceived as a means to educate and inform people of the risks associated with taking our planet for granted.
And while a lot has been accomplished in the subsequent years — from legislation protecting national resources, to global treaties limiting polluting emissions, to every day actions of individuals in how they view and use natural resources around the world — we cannot deny that global warming is still changing the world in which we live.
Which makes Earth Day the perfect time to reflect on your bucket list of places and things to experience and capture in pictures before it’s too late. Here are a few of mine.
#1 The Great Wildlife Migrations
For centuries, creatures great and small have traveled the same migration routes as part of their cycle of life. Now, with diminishing animal populations, vanishing habitats, and encroaching civilization, many of these great migrations are in danger of disappearing.
High on the list for me are:
- The polar bears who migrate to the banks Churchill, Canada, to raise their offspring each fall
- The mighty wildebeest herd crossing the Serengeti with the many and assorted predators hot on their trails
- The grace and beauty of the Monarch butterflies as they move in and out of Mexico for the winter
- The penguin colonies that return to the Falklands, Georgia Island, or the Antarctica to nest in the same rookeries year after year
- The majestic whooping crane that travel from Canada to the Gulf coast of Texas annually to nest and feast on blue crab
Mass deforestation and growing populations have left the rainforests of Borneo, the Congo Basin, the Amazon, and other locations around the world under great stress. The planet is losing majestic landscape and scenery. And it is also losing plant and animal species at an alarming rate. The World Wildlife Federation estimates that 8 out of 10 land species live in forests — and we are losing acreage at the rate of 48 football fields a minute, which leads me to my next bucket list topic …
#3 Endangered Flora & Fauna
From orangutans to polar bears. From the mountain gorilla to the Bluefin tuna. We are all too familiar with many of the animals are on the list of endangered animals around the world. But did you know that there is also a list of endangered plants as well? And while I may not know a bryophyte from a dicotyledon, I would still like to explore and photograph as many of these plant and animal species as possible before they exist only in zoos and botanical gardens.
#4 Polar Regions & Glaciers
The Arctic and Antarctica Peninsula are shrinking. And along with the loss of ice shelf, comes the demise in the wildlife that depends on this habitat for existence.
Whether you want to witness the glaciers of Alaska, Antarctica, Patagonia, Iceland, or Greenland, time may be running out. Everyone owes it to themselves to see a glacier calf; to witness seals, penguins, and polar bears in their native habitat; and to marvel at the beauty of massive floating icebergs at least once in their lives.
#5 Ancient Ruins & Endangered Landmarks
Pollution, overtourism, and even wars are threatening some of the greatest archaeological sites around the world. The stone city of Petra in Jordan, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, and Peru’s Sacred City of Machu Picchu are just a few of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites under strain and at risk.
Fortunately, several eco-friendly organizations not only offer great tours of these regions, but are dedicated to preserving and protecting them as well.
Seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface is water — and yet potable water is one of our greatest diminishing resources. While ocean levels may be rising due to global warming, historic drought from climate change is threatening such great landmarks as the Dead Sea in Jordan and the Great Salt Lakes of Utah.
High on my priorities are also the Iguaçu Falls of Argentina and Brazil, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, and more visits to Niagara Falls along the Canadian border while the water is still flowing.
#7 Pristine Beaches
The beautiful, sandy, sun drenched beaches we love so much are under attack on two fronts. The first is from the vast amount of plastic pollution in our oceans today. The Great Pacific garbage patch is now estimated to be 1.6 million square kilometers in size (roughly twice the size of Texas, or three times the size of France) with a concentration of 10-100 kilograms per square kilometer . That translates to 80,000 metric tons or 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the open seas. Which means that the existence of plastic-free beaches is decreasing each and every year.
The second is from the rising sea levels. Use the online tools from EarthTime.org to quickly see the effects of rising sea levels from climate change on your favorite beaches around the world. With the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal to “limit” global warming to 2 degrees — but worse-case predictions reaching a 4-degree increase by the end of the century — you may want to schedule your next beach vacation sooner rather than later.
#8 Sunrise & Sunsets
The perfect complement to beaches are those breathtaking sunrise and sunsets that we so often enjoy in the sand. Unfortunately, the decrease in air quality from pollution continues to threaten even this simple of pleasures. So, go capture the majesty of the rising or setting sun — whether on a beach or in a city — while we still can in clean, clear air.
#9 Open Spaces
The Earth currently supports a population of 7.7 billion people. Which means we can still enjoy large areas of open, unpopulated spaces. But with population estimates seeing growth to 8.6 billion people by 2030, 9.8 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100, it isn’t hard to predict that there will be fewer unspoiled places left to explore.
So, go to the Serengeti, experience the wonders of Patagonia, or feel the solitude of Kyrgyzstan. Or find your own small slice of heaven on Earth before the growing crowds make it impossible.
This bucket list will certainly keep me busy exploring and photographing as many natural wonders as I can during my lifetime. But on this Earth Day, I also pledge to do what I can to halt — and maybe even reverse — the trend towards their destruction.