World's Most Endangered Attractions

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Visiting some of the most beautiful destinations in the world comes with its price: our footprints-including the carbon ones-can jeopardize the very places we cherish. On the following slides, we've listed ten at-risk locations where tourism has had detrimental effects. But it's not all bad news: we've also researched the measures that are being taken to protect these places.
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Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

Visiting some of the most beautiful destinations in the world comes with its price: our footprints-including the carbon ones-can jeopardize the very places we cherish. Tourism not only impacts the physical environment, but also the culture and economy of the places we call on. Some of the most sought after destinations in the world are also the most endangered, which is why bodies such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has moved to protect threatened landmarks.

On the following slides, we've listed ten at-risk locations where tourism has had detrimental effects. But it's not all bad news: we've also researched the measures that are being taken to protect these places, and in some cases, the way you can help.

Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When visiting Rio de Janeiro, a climb to the Christ the Redeemer statue is at the top of most tourist's bucket lists. Travelers flock to the mountaintop monument to Jesus Christ for religious reasons, as well as for the breathtaking view; the 130 foot tall statue stands on the peak of the Corcovada mountain, guarding over the harbor.

Cause for Alarm: More than 2 million people climb up to the statue every year, and the wear and tear is causing the mosaics on its pedestal to break and scratch. Coupled with damage that comes from exposure to the elements, the statue was in such bad shape that the Archdioceses of Rio de Janeiro recently launched a national campaign to raise money for restoration.

Helping Hands: The statue is currently undergoing a $3.8 million refurbishment that will last until July. Thankfully, the statue will still be accessible to visitors-it will just be shrouded in clear safety sheeting to present injuries from fallen pieces. The restoration comes just in time to welcome a new crop of visitors for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

Luxor, Egypt

On the west bank of the Nile sits the Valley of the Kings, a site where tombs were constructed for kings and powerful nobles from the 16th to 11th century BC. The valley contains 63 tombs and chambers, and more might be discovered-in 2008, two tomb entrances were unearthed. Thousands of people explore the Valley of the Kings every day, setting their sights on treasure troves such as King Tut's tomb, where a coffin of pure gold was uncovered in 1922.

Cause for Alarm: Carvings and painted decorations in the tombs are so fragile that humidity and fungus, caused by poor ventilation and tourist's breath, is destructing the artifacts inside. Wall paints are browning and artifacts are deteriorating at such a rate that Egyptian Head of Antiquities Zahi Hawass estimates "the tombs could disappear between 150 and 500 years."

Helping Hands: Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities ruled to protect the tombs by improving ventilation systems, restricting visitor numbers, and even closing some tombs. The famous resting places of Nefertiti, Seti I and King Tut will be closed to tourists, but identical replicas will be open to the public.

Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

Above Cusco, Peru

Machu Picchu, or "The Lost City of the Incas," is perched on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. Constructed around 1450, the dry-stone ruins are one of the most familiar symbols of the Incan Empire. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, Machu Picchu is Peru's most visited tourist attraction-around 2,500 make the trek to the mountaintop every day.

Cause for Alarm: Machu Picchu is already one of the most endangered architectural sites. Currently, the only route to the ruins is by train, but a proposed bridge will make way for buses to transport tourists to the site, nearly doubling the amount of visitors. Many are worried that increased numbers would pose huge physical burdens to the already delicate ruins, so much so that UNESCO is considering adding Machu Picchu to its list of World Heritage Site in Danger.

Helping Hands: The Peruvian government has submitted a preservation plan that would restrict those who walk the trail to the ruins to 500 people at a time. The strategy also says tours must be made with a registered tour operator 30 days before departure.

Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

Lhasa, Tibet

The Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple are both symbols of Tibetan Buddhism with such great historic importance they are listed as World Heritage Sites. Of course, you don't have to be religiously interested in the buildings to be stunned by their magnificent ornamentation and harmonious integration into the Himalayan landscape.

Cause for Alarm: China is trying to reel in 10 million tourists by 2020, increasing tourism to the area nine-fold and eroding Tibet's indigenous culture and sacred sites. Environmentalists and tour operators fear for the "Disneyfication" of the entire Himalayan region. Tibetan temples and manor houses are already being destroyed to pave the way for roads and hotels.

Helping Hands: In 2003, UNESCO demanded Chinese authorities create a "buffer zone around the listed buildings" and halt the "demolition of Lhasa's urban tissue." Since then, the organization has been keeping a close eye on the area, but their demands have not yet been met.

Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

Quintana Roo, Mexico

One of the best preserved Mayan sites, the Tulum ruins are situated on the cliffs of the Caribbean Sea along the eastern edge of the Yucatan Peninsula. The walled city was a stronghold to protect the ancient temples of the Mayan civilization, and the view of the rising sun from its bluffs is a jaw-dropping experience.

Cause for Alarm: Tulum's close proximity to tourists hot spots along the Caribbean coastline-such as Cancun-make it a popular stomping ground. Buses bring a constant stream of visitors, making the ruins the third most-visited archaeological site in Mexico. Amusement parks, shopping centers, and hotels that cater to tourists are popping up all along the coastline, and the government has plans to build an international airport nearby.

Helping Hands: Environmentalists and local authorities have turned to the National Fund for Tourism Development-the agency that built Cancun-to aid in managing development in the region. However, no official plan has been outlined.

Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

Agra, India

The Taj Mahal is not only the world's most famous mausoleum, but also the crown jewel of Muslim art in India. Most recognizable by its white domed marble, the Taj Mahal is actually an extremely complex structure that combines elements from Persian, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. Construction began in 1632, and the monument was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

Cause for Alarm: Anywhere from 2 to 4 million people visit the Taj Mahal annually, and pollution caused by traffic emissions is turning the monument's pristine white marble surface yellow. Tests have shown that the air around the Taj Mahal contains five times the amount of suspended particles-such as sulfur dioxide-than the monument could handle without undergoing permanent damage.

Helping Hands: The Indian government has set up the "Taj Trapezium Zone," a 4,015 square mile protective area around the Taj Mahal where strict emission standards are in place. Tourists must now walk from parking lots to catch an electric bus to get up-close-and-personal with the landmark.

Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

Queensland, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's biggest structure made by living organisms. This system of nearly 3,000 individual reefs stretches over a 133,000 square mile area off the coast of Queensland, and is so large it can be seen from outer space. The waters are warm and clear, making it a popular destination for tourists-especially scuba divers. The reef was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

Cause for Alarm: 2 million people visit the Great Barrier Reef annually, many by boats ranging in size from glass-bottomed pontoons to mega cruise ships. Cruise ships emit nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as airplanes-and most tourists must fly to Australia before exploring the reef anyway-causing devastation to the ecosystem. It has been estimated by some environmentalists that 95 percent of its living coral could disappear by 2050.

Helping Hands: A large chunk of the reef has been designated as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, an area where damaging human activities such as fishing and ship traffic are limited. Tourists must also pay a daily fee that goes toward research on the reef, and policies on boats limit the traffic in the area.

Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

Chile

This Polynesian island in the Pacific Ocean is world famous for its 887 monumental statues, called moai, that were carved out of solidified volcanic ash by the Rapanui people over 900 years ago. One of the most isolated places in the world, the triangular-shaped island lies 2,180 miles from its mother country, Chile. Rapa Nui National Park was founded in 1935 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Cause for Alarm: Hoards of travelers are impacting the indigenous culture, ecosystem and delicate moai statues on the Island. Since 1990, the number of tourists visiting the island has increased from around 5,000 to nearly 70,000 people per year. The prospect of taking in tourist dollars has also lured new residents, increasing the small population by about 20 percent since 2002. In addition, there are plans to build a casino on the Island, what the New York Times called the "latest in a long series of calamities."

Helping Hands: Marcelo Pont, the vice-president of advisory body the Council of Elders has moved to limit the number of tourists to 50,000 a year. UNESCO launched a sustainable tourism program last June "to reduce the negative impact of tourism by finding a balance between the needs for the preservation of the site and the development of the island community." In the same month, the EuroChile project took off on its efforts to help make tourism environmentally sustainable and benefit 289 small tourism businesses on the island.

Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

Ecuador

When Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Island, he was awed by the vast number of species that were unique to the area. Many animals, plants, and insects are unique to the Islands, such as the Galapagos Land Iguana and Galapagos Tortoise. The collection of 19 islands and 107 rocks and islets straddles the equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the west coast of South America. In 1959, the Ecuadorian government declared 97.5% of the land area a national park, and in 1978 UNESCO recognized the islands as a World Heritage Site.

Cause for Alarm: A growing human population along with an increased number of tourists is rapidly destroying habitats of species. The Charles Darwin Foundation estimates that one in five of the 43 threatened Galapagos marine species may already be extinct. Other threats include illegal or excessive fishing, poaching, and introduction of non-native plants and animals. In 2007, UNESCO put the Galapagos Islands on their World Heritage in Danger List.

Helping Hands: The Galapagos Conservation Trust is making strides to support varying conservation projects and programs on the Islands, including installing solar panels at the Charles Darwin Research Station and monitoring rare animals, such as reef sharks and sea turtles. In addition, several sites have been classified as 'no take' areas, limiting the number of boats and visitors in the waters.

Worlds Most Endangered Attractions

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