Image: Luxor
© Alamy
The Luxor in Egypt is home to some of the greatest wonders of ancient Egypt. Unfortuntately, as more people moved into the area, water levels have risen. Since the temples are made of porous stone, the water gets absorbed and leaves behind salt, which crystallizes and causes the decorated surfaces of the temples to evaporate.
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updated 5/31/2007 1:37:33 PM ET 2007-05-31T17:37:33

Drop that pencil — it may be time to throw away your travel wish list.

That's because the spots you plan to visit may not be there by the time you get around to booking your flight.

“There are thousands of places in the world that are endangered,” says Kecia Fong, a conservator at the Getty Conservation Institute, a Los Angeles-based organization that works internationally to advance the field of conservation through initiatives like scientific research and field projects. “The kinds of sites that are most endangered have rapid development like building roads or hotels to deal with an influx of tourists.”

Also contributing to the endangerment of the world's historic sites and natural wonders are global warming, pollution and deforestation.

Translation: Before you book a trip to the Galapagos Islands or Mount Kilimanjaro’s ice fields, make sure both are still visitable. The former suffers from over-tourism, the latter global warming.

Other spots in jeopardy include Kathmandu Valley in Nepal and the Chan Chan Archaelogical Zone in Peru, according to the Paris-based UNESCO World Heritage center, which is charged with preserving cultural and natural heritage worldwide. It puts together an annual list of 25 to 35 sites it deems in danger of extinction.

"We're not saying these places [on the list] are going to disappear," says Kishore Rao, deputy director, "but they need some type of corrective action."

Growth gone wild
One threat of particular concern to these groups is over-development.

Take Tibet, for example. For the past several years, the country has seen an explosion in the number of hotels being built to accommodate an increasing number of tourists and has also felt the effects of mainland Chinese moving in and starting businesses. The country saw 2.25 million tourists in the first 10 months of 2006, an increase of 31.8 percent from a year earlier, according to the Tibet regional tourist bureau. There are no signs of growth slowing down: A new luxury tourist train on the 1,215 mile Qinghai-Tibet Railway between China and Tibet is expected to debut at the end of this year. Butterfield & Robinson, the Toronto-based operator that offers cushy active getaways, will inaugurate a nine-day walking trip of the country this September that will include hiking in Lhasa.

The Everglades National Park in Florida has also experienced urban encroachment. This 1.5-million acre swath of land is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and has been on the World Heritage Center’s Danger List since 1993. The wildlife sanctuary full of rare and endangered species like the Florida panther and the West Indian manatee has experienced a surge in development since the late 1980s, including the building of condominiums and shopping malls, that has wiped out half of its ecosystem.

Hot zones
Global warming, an increase in the Earth’s temperature, is also responsible for endangering significant sites around the world.

Zoe Chafe, a research associate for Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute, an environmental organization focused on sustainability, says that some places in the world will become difficult or impossible to see in coming years because of global warming. Warmer temperatures and erratic weather patterns can cause glaciers to melt and historic sites to erode because of unpredictable rain.

Image: Glacier National Park
© Alamy
Montana's Glacier National Park, which has more than 130 lakes and 1,000 different kinds of plants, was also home to at least 150 glaciers in the mid-19th century. Today, most have melted away and only a few dozen remain.
The ice fields of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania are a prime example. These massive pure white fields captured by Ernest Hemingway in his short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” are literally disappearing. In 2002, Lonnie Thompson, a professor of geological sciences at Ohio State University, released a study that predicted global warming would wipe these fields out completely between 2015 and 2020. Data from the study show that 82 percent of the ice fields melted between 1912 and 2000.

If you’ve dreamt about snorkeling or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef to see the colorful coral and schools of fish, hurry up and plan that trip down under. The largest marine life system in the world, featuring more than 2,800 reefs, is threatened because of warming ocean temperatures that forces the algae that gives coral its color out of the polyps, causing the coral to die.

Taking action
However, it’s not all bleak for endangered places.

The World Heritage Center tries to take corrective action when it feels a site is in jeopardy, says Rao. This could mean raising money to protect the area or diverting planned buildings or hotels to other places.

Still, man and Mother Nature are powerful forces. While some historic and natural sites might have a future, no amount of money or work can save other places, such as those affected by global warming, since it’s projected to worsen.

The point? Visit these places while they’re still around.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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