Time is Running Out for the Maldives, a Country That Might Not Be Around for Much Longer

Timo Newto-Syms, Flickr

You may have heard of the Maldives. It’s a tropical travel paradise, with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. An island nation in the Indian Ocean, it is composed of 26 atolls that are home to some of the world’s best diving. The Maldives is a place that’s beautiful, exotic and remote.

It’s also a place that might not be around for much longer.

This week marks the release of the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, which by Friday should give a prediction of how much, and when, sea levels will rise. For the island nation of the Maldives that isn’t just a warning, it’s an expiration date.Mohamed Nasheed, the former freely elected president who was expected to be re-elected until accusations of poll fraud suspended the vote, has long been a voice for the threats of climate change to his nation (he’s the guy that held an underwater cabinet meeting), warning that if the world stands by and does nothing, the Maldives will exist no more.

Tourism is one of the Maldives’ main industries, and many of the small islands are set up as luxury resort destinations. While today you can calmly walk, dipping your toes in the calm waters, the risk that these islands will become submerged is on a not so distant horizon.

The effects of climate change are already being felt here, and in an economy that depends on tourism, storms and freak weather can have a significant impact. From erosion to coral reef degradation, the islands are changing, and in big ways.

What’s the future of the Maldives? Only time will tell, but for now, the future does not look bright.

How Did China Misplace 27000 Rivers?

China's rivers are disappearing at an alarming rate. When China set out to conduct its First National Census of Water, government officials expected to get a better understanding of the country’s rivers and other aquatic resources. But the results of that census have left some environmentalists wondering what happened to all of China’s waterways and if there is a looming water crisis for the world’s most populous nation.

Prior to conducting the water census, China estimated that it had upwards of 50,000 rivers inside of its borders. But the findings of the three-year study indicate that that number is actually 22,909. That’s a loss of more than 27,000 rivers with a combined total water volume that would be about the equivalent of the Mississippi River. That is a significant amount of water to have completely vanished.

So what exactly happened to all of those rivers? China blames their disappearance on two factors – outdated mapping techniques and global climate change. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, China’s Deputy Director of the Ministry of Water Resources, Huang He, indicated that the original estimate was probably too high due to inaccurate topographic maps that trace their origin back to the 1950s. He also acknowledged that climate change has led to the loss of both water and soil throughout China.
Environmental activists aren’t convinced, however. While many acknowledge that better mapping technology has no doubt led to a more accurate river count, there is a widely held belief that China’s booming economy and terrible record on protecting the environment both had a big impact on the loss of these waterways. This is evident in the slow, but steady, drop in water levels on the country’s two longest rivers, the Yangtze and Yellow.

Considering how quickly China’s population continues to grow and its towns and cities are modernizing, there is great fear that the nearly 23,000 rivers that do exist there will not be adequate to meet the demands placed on them in the 21st century and beyond. To make matters worse, many of those rivers are already greatly polluted, which will likely lead to a host of other health problems in the future.

China won’t be the only nation dealing with water shortages in the future if climatologists are to be believed. Climate change is drying up rivers all over the world, not to mention shifting weather patterns and causing droughts. The difference is that most other countries don’t have a population anywhere close to the size of China’s and most aren’t inflicting as much damage on their waterways as the Asian country.

Predicting what the future holds is a difficult proposition. But lets hope that when China takes its Second National Census of Water it doesn’t lose more than half of its waterways once again.

[Photo Credit: Luo Shaoyang via WikiMedia]

Climate Change Set To Take Fliers On A Bumpy Ride

If you’re one of those people who start turning green every time your airplane hits a bit of turbulence, you’re in for a rough ride in the coming years. According to a new study, air turbulence is likely to go up by 10-40 percent by 2050, causing more passengers to reach for the airsickness bag.

The report published in the Nature Climate Change journal says that clear air turbulence – a sharp movement of air that happens even in good weather – is likely to get worse in the coming decades because of climate change.

The report’s authors studied the air over the North Atlantic, which is one of the busiest flight corridors in the world. They believe that as greenhouse gases increase, clear air turbulence will also rise – putting more planes in danger’s way. What’s more, this particular type of turbulence doesn’t show up on an airplane’s radar, making it tough for pilots to dodge. Planes that are given a heads up by other aircraft might be able to detour around the turbulence, but that would mean longer flight times and using up more fuel, which in turn contributes to the climate change problem.

But don’t start popping the motion sickness pills just yet. Some scientists say the study isn’t conclusive and believe there needs to be more research into the matter.

[Photo credit: Flickr user woodleywonderworks]

Climate Change May Fuel Future Travel Options

climate changeClimate change is a topic that many of us think is something that will affect future generations, perhaps hundreds of years from now. But what if we look at it from a different viewpoint?

What if we could travel back in time 17 million years to when the Grand Canyon was just forming? Would we have believed that the national monument, now nearly a mile deep in places, would some day be a major tourist attraction? Probably not. But time and the forces of nature that come with it, along with the effect of humans on the planet, have a way of changing what we see – sometimes dramatically.

We don’t have to go back millions of years to see such changes either. A recent study indicates that the Arctic will become drastically greener in just a matter of decades. “So what?” one might say. “Who goes there anyway?” Significant to this study on climate change is that it was done in the Arctic where not much can grow or live due to the harsh environment. To see change of any kind is unusual.

The research team included scientists from AT&T Labs-Research, Woods Hole Research Center, Colgate University, Cornell University and the University of York. These are organizations that have a very global view on things that will affect our future.

My father-in-law worked for AT&T during the early days of microwave communications and sometimes told a story of how researchers in his lab used the then-new technology to cook hot dogs. That technology would later also be used for the microwave ovens we all know so well. This story has much of the same, believable flavor.”Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said Richard Pearson of the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation in an RDMag article.

climate changeIt will begin with something as simple as some species of birds being unable to seasonally migrate to particular polar habitats, such as open space for ground-nesting, suggests the study. But things turn worse very quickly as the sun’s radiation, normally reflected back into space when it hits snow, will have less of it to hit and will stick around, accelerating global warming.

Just one commonly accepted effect of global warming is flooding in some coastal areas and more powerful storms.

To the world of travel, that means popular beach destinations could be under water in a few hundred years. More immediate, some of today’s iconic travel destinations, already struggling with sea level issues like Venice, Italy, or the Netherlands, could be doomed much quicker.

Right now, for example, Venice, Italy, is being protected against rising tides in the Adriatic Sea by rows of mobile gates, intended to isolate the Venetian Lagoon when the tide rises above a certain level. The Netherlands, a geographically low-lying country, has a great amount of its land and people at or below sea level and will also be affected by rising ocean levels.

climate changeThis new study, while not talked about much in the press, is a clear indicator of what the future holds and good food for thought.

Of even more immediate concern, and visually a clear indicator of a problem we can do something about, is today’s reality of the “floating island of plastic” in the Pacific Ocean.

Brought to the area by ocean currents that move around the planet like a slow-motion whirlpool, opposing the wind and earth’s rotational forces, tens of thousands of pounds of garbage wash ashore here every year.

“These ecosystems are very connected. If the oceans are in trouble, we humans are in trouble. We don’t realize that we are threatening our own existence,” says Dr. Gregor Hodgson, founder and executive director of Reef Check Organization in this video.



[Image credit - Flickr user Kris Krug]

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]