How You Can Help Save Endangered Destinations

Earlier this year, I told you about several destinations you should see before they disappear. Climate change, environmental destruction and a number of other issues were all threatening to ruin these travel sites, and in some cases (such as The Maldives) wipe them right off the map.

A lot of you responded with feelings of sadness and helplessness about the travel treasures we face losing. Some of you weren’t content to sit by and let these endangered destinations die – you wanted to know what you could do to save them. So to help you do just that, I’ve put together a list of resources and organizations where you can get involved and make a difference.

Fight Climate Change

When it comes to problems that are destroying our environment, climate change is a biggie. Two examples I gave you before were the melting snowcaps at Jungfrau, Switzerland, and the rising sea levels in The Maldives, but of course there are countless other victims, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the flora and fauna in the Amazon rainforest.

One organization that has been tackling the problems caused by climate change is the Environmental Defense Fund. The charity pushes for clean energy policies and legislation that will lower carbon emissions. They also work with big companies to lessen their impact on the environment, and encourage other countries around the world to cap carbon pollution as well. If you want to support the cause, you can become a member of the organization, donate funds, sign petitions, or lobby your senator to take action.

Adopt A Polar Bear

Polar bears are dwindling in number fast as their icy home shrinks more and more every year. These creatures not only play an important role in the marine food chain but also in the culture and economy of people living in the arctic region.

The World Wildlife Fund is one of several groups working to save these animals from extinction. They do things like monitor polar bear populations, protect the animals from bears, and prevent oil and gas drilling in the local habitat. If you want to help save this animal from extinction you can get involved by writing a letter to congress or adopting a polar bear for as little as $25.

Conserve Important Art

When we think about travel sites that are disappearing, we don’t normally think of art. But many significant artworks around the world are in fact crumbling away – Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” which I mentioned in my prior article, is among the more famous of them. In the Italian city of Venice, thousands of paintings are under threat. The city is home to the highest concentration of historic architecture in the world, but rising waters, sea salt and industrial pollution are pummeling the cultural treasures.

Organizations such as Save Venice have been helping to preserve the city’s landmarks and restore its artwork, and to date, they’ve tackled more than 400 projects. Those looking to get involved can become a member of the non-profit organization, make a donation, or choose a specific restoration project to adopt.

Save The Rainforests

Deforestation has been wiping out the planet’s rainforests at an alarming rate. Last time, I talked about the plight of Madagascar’s rainforest, which has shriveled to less than 20 percent of its original size.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has stepped in to try and stop further destruction of the country’s natural landscape. They’re teaching locals how to grow rice without slashing and burning the forest, creating tree nurseries and promoting ecotourism so locals have ways of earning a living without resorting to things like illegal logging. If you want to contribute, you can become a member of the WCS (which includes free access to a number of New York City’s zoos) or make a donation.

Preserve World Heritage Sites

Of the hundreds of travel sites that have been given World Heritage site status, 38 of them are considered to be in danger. Natural disasters, war and even out of control tourism have all taken a toll and threaten to obliterate these historical sites. If you have cash to contribute, the World Monument Fund is a good place to start. They’ve partnered with local communities and governments in more than 90 countries to save and restore cultural treasures.

However, if you really want to get your hands dirty and do something, then you might consider volunteering at a World Heritage center. There are volunteer projects across the globe, including diving along the Great Barrier Reef to help threatened coral, conserving the Medina of Fez in Morocco, and restoring archaeological sites in Tanzania, to name a few. If you want to take part, you need to apply well in advance and you will have to share some of the travel costs. But the good news is you don’t need any experience to get involved.

[Photo credit: Flickr users Peter Blanchard; Travel Manitoba; cowman345; Frank Vassen; Fighting Irish 1977]

5 Places To See In 2013 Before They Disappear

If you’ve been thinking about where you might want to spend your vacation this year, don’t make any plans until you’ve read this list.

There are a lot of places and sights in the world that might not be around very much longer. Climate change, rising sea levels, human destruction and even shoddy artistry are to blame for the deterioration of some of the world’s treasures. Want to see them before they’re gone? Here are five places to see in 2013 before they disappear.

1. Jungfrau, Switzerland (above)

You’ve probably heard about the receding ice-cap on Tanzania‘s Mount Kilimanjaro, which grows smaller and smaller with each passing year. But climate change is affecting glaciers worldwide, including the Aletsch Glacier, which is the largest in the Swiss Alps. Over a period of 55 years, the glacier has shrunk in volume by 60 percent and continues to retreat at a pace of about 3 percent a year. Scientists believe there’s nothing they can do to stop this UNESCO World Heritage Site from melting away.If you want to visit the region before it changes forever, consider going to Jungfrau, which is one of the main summits in the area. Jungfrau is not just for mountain climbers – you can access parts of the mountain by train and visit the observatory, the Ice Palace (a museum made of ice that’s filled with ice sculptures) as well as other attractions.

If you go, you might want to download this iphone app that teaches you about the effects of climate change in the area. The app was designed by scientists at the University of Bern and includes maps and walking trails designed to improve your understanding of the melting glaciers.

2. “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci

“The Last Supper,” as you probably know, is a famous mural by artist Leonardo Da Vinci, painted during the 15th century. However, what you might not realize is that the artwork is slowly deteriorating and flaking away.

The mural, which is located on a church wall in Milan, Italy, began to fall apart less than 20 years after Da Vinci painted it. Part of the problem was the untested application method Da Vinci used to create his mural, but attempts to restore the artwork over the years have also contributed to the damage.

If you want to see “The Last Supper,” you’ll have to book well ahead (at least four weeks in advance is a good bet), as access to the mural is restricted to a small number of visitors at a time. After passing through a humidity-controlled environment, you’ll get 15 minutes to enjoy the masterpiece before being ushered out. You can reserve your ticket through this website.

3. The Maldives

The Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean that is slowly sinking into the sea. The country – which is made up of almost 1200 islands and atolls – is the lowest country in the world, with the islands averaging a height of just 4’11″ above sea level.

As climate change leads to rising sea levels, it threatens to swamp the islands. Water has already eroded 14 of the islands badly enough that they’ve had to be abandoned. Local authorities are so worried they’re even buying up land in neighboring countries so they’ll have somewhere to relocate their 300,000 citizens.

Tourism is the main source of income in the Maldives and a lot of that money is going towards the country’s relocation funds. So if you visit the Maldives, you could actually play a part in helping the inhabitants find a new home after theirs slips beneath the sea.

4. Madagascar

Madagascar is an island nation off the east coast of Africa famed for its biodiversity. Because the country split off from India more than 88 million years ago, the plants and wildlife on the island have been able to continue developing without interference. As a result, more than 80 percent of the flora and fauna is unique to the country and can’t be found anywhere else on the planet.

Unfortunately, the environment is under threat because of deforestation. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and many of its people are forced to slash and burn the forests in order to plant crops for food. A lot of the timber on the island is also highly valued and can sell for more than $2000 a ton, causing people to log even where it’s illegal. More than 80 percent of the country’s forests have already been destroyed and many species of wildlife have disappeared.

5. Polar bears near the Arctic

Polar bears were the first animals to end up on the endangered species list because of global warming. These animals can only live in areas where the ocean freezes, because they hunt the seals that live under the sheets of ice. Problem is, as global temperatures rise, arctic ice only stays frozen for short periods – which means polar bears don’t get enough time to hunt their prey. The situation gets worse and worse each year and a lot of bears die trying to swim long distances between the ice. Some even die as a result of cannibalism, since desperately hungry adult bears will eat the cubs.

There are only about 20,000-25,000 polar bears left in the wild. If you want to see them, your best bet is in Canada, which is home to about 65 percent of the world’s polar bear population.

[Photo credits: Flickr user Neville10; Flickr user vanz; Flickr user YXO; Flickr user Frank Vassen; Flickr user Travel Manitoba]

Exploring the marine life of Madagascar

madagascar While many people may think of DreamWorks’ animal cartoon movie when they hear about Madagascar, there are many reasons the destination warrants a visit in person. The country of Madagascar is actually a large island off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Because of it’s unique location and climate, the area is home to an array of interesting and colorful diving opportunities.

First of all there is Nosy Tanikely Nature Reserve and National Marine Reserve, located on the very small island of Tanikely that has three very different and distinct reefs, each ranging from 5-18 feet in depth. Here you will find marine life like sea turtles and Leopard Sharks. There is also Nosy Be island, which literally means “big island”. Dive sites here range from about 15 feet to 150 feet and feature myriad varieties of hard and soft corals as well as underwater animals.

The best time to visit is from the end of March up until the very end of December, as January-March is the rainy season, and February is their Hurricane season. In Madagascar, December is considered to be summer and is very hot, while June and July give the country a very warm (about 79 degrees Fahrenheit) and dry winter, making this the perfect time visibility-wise for scuba diving.

To get an idea of the scuba diving experience in Madagascar for yourself, check out the gallery below.

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Are you ready for a once in a lifetime cycling holiday?

Enjoy a once in a lifetime cycling holiday in 2012Pedalers Pub and Grille may sound like a place where you’d stop for some grub after a long day riding your bike, but in actually, its an adventure travel company that specializes in cycling holidays to some of the best destinations on the planet. To celebrate their 25th anniversary, the company has just announced a new tour that will take riders on an eight month, six continent odyssey that will truly be a once in a lifetime experience.

The trip will begin with a “get acquainted” ride through Vermont, which will give everyone who signs up for the tour a chance to get to know one another before the real excitement begins. That shakedown cruise will also give travelers an opportunity to work out the bugs of the trip, such as learning what to carry with them on their daily rides, how to pack and unpack the bikes, and how to endure the rigors of the open road.

From there, the route will take cyclists across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America, and Central America, before eventually returning to the United States. In all, they will ride will through nearly 30 countries, including Ireland, France, Italy, Egypt, Kenya, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Peru, Costa Rica, and more. They’ll average anywhere form 45-60 miles (80-100km) per day on mostly paved roads with the occasional dirt track as well.

The Once In A Lifetime Tour won’t get underway until June of 2012, which gives you plenty of time to save your pennies. With a price tag of $95,000 the trip doesn’t come cheap, but that price does include all accommodations, most meals, all transportation costs, guides, tours, and even a custom built bike.

If you happen to have $100k and 8 months of free time coming your way, you may want to consider joining this trip. If nothing else, it sure seems like it’ll live up to its name and truly be a once in a lifetime experience.

[Photo credit: Pedalers Pub and Grille]

10 breeds of pirate – Somalis to Vikings to Japanese Pirate Ninjas

pirate

A yacht carrying a quartet of Americans was recently seized by Somali pirates, the latest in a string of hijackings that reaches back millenia. According to MSNBC, the seized yacht, the “S/V Quest,” is owned by Jean and Scott Adam – a couple on a worldwide quest distributing bibles. While they no doubt expected to spread the word far and wide, they were certainly not expecting to be boarded by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman in the Arab sea. The waters along the horn of Africa are a hotbed of piracy, and travelling by boat in this region is about as reckless as booking a 2 week holiday in Mogadishu.

The Somali pirates are the modern day face of an enterprise that has existed for centuries. Piracy has been part of seafaring culture since man first took to the open water. As early as 1400 BC, Lukka sea raiders from Asia Minor began committing acts of piracy throughout the Mediterranean. These early pirates were known simply as the “Sea Peoples.” Aside from these early innovators of seaward sabotage, many groups and clans have sailed under the banner of terror on the high seas. The Vikings innovated the craft, the Barbary corsairs elevated it to an art, and the pirates of the Caribbean made it famous. Many other groups, operating in the shadows of history, took to piracy on the high seas. From dark age plundering to modern day terrorism, some of these groups of pirates include:The Vikings
Hailing from Scandinavia, the Vikings pillaged much of western Europe and northern Africa. The Norsemen covered a range from Russia to Newfoundland in their graceful longships, and pioneered piracy in the middle ages. They were the original world explorers – helmeted plunderers with a thrist for adventure.

The Wokou
Around the same time Vikings were wreaking havoc in Europe, these Japanese pirates, known as Wokou, began terrorizing the Chinese and Korean coast. Most of these pirates were Ronin, merchants, and smugglers. Allegedly, some were even ninjas, throwing a paradoxical spin on the classic “pirate versus ninja” debate. Why choose when you can just be both?

Barbary Corsairs
In response to the moors being ran out of Europe, many took up residence in northern Africa. Some of these displaced seamen became pirates and raided towns and vessels in Spain, Italy, France, and beyond. The infamous Redbeard, Oruc Reis, was a notable Barbary Corsair, and sacked many coastal Italian towns.

Madagascar Pirates
Off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar was a lawless place during the golden age of pirate pirateering. Since no European countries colonized Madagascar, the island was an ideal spot for pirates to lay low and plot the next heist. Allegedly, the pirate utopia of “Libertalia” was located on Madagascar. According to pirate lore, “Libertalia” was a communist colony governed by pirates for pirates, where all shared in the booty.

Orang Laut
Originally from the Spice Islands and settling in modern day Malaysia, these sea gypsies began raiding the strait of Malacca over 500 years ago. Eventually, they fell into a protective role, policing the waters for the Sultanates of Johor and Malacca. Unlike many pirates that called solid ground home, the Orang Laut lived exclusively on the water.

Classical Carribean Pirates
The pirate cliche is the Caribbean pirate, and the spokesperson is Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean. The Caribbean pirate era began when Aztec gold bound for Spain was seized by pirates in the early 16th century. This escalated into the golden age of pirateering in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most Caribbean pirates came from European origins.

Bugi Pirates of Sulawesi
The term boogeyman originated from the orchid shaped island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. The Bugi pirates of southern Sulawesi were so feared that Dutch and English sailors brought home tales of horror to scare misbehaving children. The Bugianese were among the first to explore Papua New Guinea and northern Australia.

Sea Dayak of Borneo
Notorious headhunters, the sea dayaks terrorized the waters of the South China Sea, targeting vessels passing from Hong Kong to Singapore. In the mid nineteenth century, James Brooke and an army of Malays wiped out many of these pirates. Today, these people are known as the Iban and live in the old rainforests of Borneo.

Chinese Pirates
The most powerful pirate ever was a Chinese woman. In the early 19th century, an ex-prostitute namedpirate Cheng I Sao commanded a fleet of more than 1,500 ships – larger than many navies. According to CNN, she was an adept business person and controlled her fleet via a proxy named Chang Pao. She developed spy networks, created economic agreements with mainland farmers for supplies, and generally revolutionized the piracy business model. Her crews stalked the waters of the South China Sea.

Somali Pirates
The modern pirate hails from Somalia – a crossroads of the derelict. With more warlords than laws, Somalia is a disaster state. The government has been more a fleeting idea than a real thing for the last 20 years, and it shows. Warlords control fleets that operate out of coastal towns, amassing ships, arms, and wealth. The pirates use small boats and assault rifles to board both passenger and cargo ships, taking hostages, booty, or both.

Piracy causes roughly $15 billion in losses worldwide per year. The most trafficked areas for modern day piracy include the South China Sea, the Gulf of Aden (off the horn of Africa), the Niger Delta, and the infamous Strait of Malacca.

flickr image via cesargp