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]

Alaskan Town Invaded By Record Number Of Polar Bears

The 250 residents of the remote town of Kaktovik, Alaska, have grown accustomed to living on the edge of the wilderness, but even they had to be a bit surprised at all the ursine visitors that came calling last month. In mid-September, the sleepy little community found itself over run with a record number of polar bears who came looking for food while they wait for the return of the pack ice.

Located above the Arctic Circle, the people of Kaktovik routinely supplement their meager supplies with an annual whale hunt, which provides meat for the lean winter months. Following the hunt, the carcasses of the whales are left on the beach for predators and scavengers to pick clean. Typically this attracts numerous polar bears that are looking for an easy meal, but this year there were far more bears than normal. On September 13, observers counted 80 polar bears in total, which broke the old record for the most spotted in a single day. The previous record of 65 was set back in 2004.

Researchers believe that it could be more than just the promise of a free meal that brought so many polar bears together at the same place and time. This summer saw the Arctic ice melt at an unprecedented level, which may have forced more of the creatures to head to solid ground while they waited for temperatures to drop and the ice to return. Unlike most animals, polar bears actually eat more regularly in the winter and look to their fat stores to get them through the leaner summer months. Any time they can get an easy meal it is a cause to congregate.

Lucky for the bears, the ice began to form once again on September 16 and now has started to thicken and spread across the Arctic Ocean. That means the animals will soon be able to head north once again, leaving Kaktovik behind for anther year.

[Photo credit: Loren Holmes]

Will Canada dump the beaver?

For more than 35 years, the official national animal of Canada has been the beaver. The creature earned that lofty honor due to its industrious behavior and the importance that the trade in beaver pelts played in the country’s history. But now, if one Canadian Senator gets her way, the beaver may be replaced as a national symbol with another animal – one that is also closely associated with Canada.

Last week, Senator Nicole Eaton made an impassioned plea to her colleagues asking them to consider changing Canada’s official animal to the polar bear. Calling the beaver “a dentally defective rat,” Eaton said the creatures are a nuisance, citing her own issues with the beasts gnawing on the dock at her lakeside cottage. She went on to argue that the polar bear has “strength, courage, resourcefulness and dignity,” qualities which would make it the perfect symbol for Canada.

Environmentalists have been quick to criticize the suggestion, saying that Eaton’s Conservative party supports environmental policies that could spell the end of polar bears before the 21st century is over. Eaton countered by saying that Canada has an excellent track record for managing its polar bear population, demonstrating its commitment to the endangered creatures.

It’s too early yet to know if the rodent will be replaced with the ferocious predator, but this is essentially akin to the U.S. dumping the eagle in favor of another animal. There is sure to be all kinds of discussion, both for and against.

Polar bear kills tourist in Norway

A British youth group traveling in a remote region of Norway was attacked by a polar bear yesterday, leaving one dead and four others severely injured. The animal entered their camp while the group slept, and attacked the travelers inside their tents, before it was shot to death by one of the group’s leaders.

17-year old Horatio Chapple was one of 13 members of a BSES Expedition traveling along a glacier on the island of Spitsbergen, located in the Svalbard archipelago. He was sharing a tent with two other boys when the bear attacked, fatally wounding him. The animal then turned on other campers, before it was killed as well. Chapple was already dead by the time a rescue team could reach them, but the other four victims were air lifted to a hospital.

The BSES is an organization that works with young people in the U.K. in an effort to introduce them to the outdoors and encourage an active lifestyle. The group helps the youth to build confidence, while also educating them about the impact of climate change on our planet. This particular BSES expedition was part of a larger group of 80 that were spending five weeks on the island.

As the ice in the Arctic Ocean retreats, polar bears have been forced into smaller habitats, which has brought them increasingly in contact with humans. This team came to Spitsbergen not only armed with guns, but also a safety system designed to give them an early warning if a bear should approach. At this time, it’s not known if that system went off, but no one noticed, or if it failed altogether.

Two of the survivors of the attack are said to be in serious condition in a university hospital in Tromso, Norway.

Only in Alaska: Living – and traveling – in bear country

Bears: everybody fears them, everybody wants to photograph them from behind a tour bus window. In my neighborhood, black bears constantly get into garbage cans – when people express disappointment at not having seen any bears on their vacation, I encourage them to hang out on my street on garbage day.

Alaska has plenty of bears, and if you follow a few rules you’re unlikely to ever encounter a bear in the wild.There are really only two types that you might encounter casually: the black bear and the brown (or grizzly) bear. I often meet tourists who are too timid to venture on even a basic nature walk after I warn them that they need to be bear-aware. This attitude is unfortunate, because they don’t realize two things:

1. Bears in Alaska don’t just hang out in the woods, so you’re not necessarily “safe” by staying in town. Though urban bear encounters are generally confined to the fringes of town, last year a grizzly wandered down a popular greenbelt into downtown Anchorage, the state’s largest city.

2. If you follow the right procedures, you’re unlikely to encounter a bear in the wild.

Here are a few tips for avoiding bears, and what to do should you encounter one:

  • The best rule, the holy grail of all rules, is to make noise. I’m a trail runner, an activity that is the third-most dangerous in bear country (just behind getting between a sow and her cubs or a bear and its kill) since it involves moving (slightly, in my case) fast and quietly. I used to carry bear spray (and we’ll get to that) but now I just yell. As my friend told me, “if you run into a bear, you weren’t making enough noise.”
  • On a related note, in my opinion you should forget bear bells unless you’re putting them on your dog’s collar. They don’t make very much noise and give you a false sense of security. Better to sing, yell or clap your hands.
  • Learn to identify a black bear and a brown bear – your response should you run into one will differ depending on the bear. Despite their common names, color is not always the best indicator of a type of bear, so shape and size are important. Black bears are smaller than brown, and are flat between the shoulder blades while grizzlies have a large hump.Black bears also have a straight profile, while grizzlies have a dished-out shape.

If you encounter a bear:

  • Don’t run – you’ll never outrun a bear and you don’t want to encourage it to chase you. Stay calm, talk to the bear to let it know you’re there, and raise your arms to make yourself look bigger. If the bear stands on two legs, it’s just trying to get a better look at you.
  • Don’t climb a tree – bears are better at it than you.
  • Don’t give it food. It might come back for more.
  • Throw something on the ground to try to distract it – a camera or book.

If you’re charged/attacked by a bear:

  • If it’a a black bear, it’s likely bluffing. I’ve had several friends charged by black bears, and each time the bear veered at the last second.
  • You can use bear (pepper) spray on a black bear, but I’ve read that pepper spray only annoys brown bears, which is why I don’t carry it any more.
  • If attacked by a black bear, fight back! Punch it in the nose, kick it, whatever.
  • If attacked by a brown bear, play dead. Cover your neck and head. Typically a brown bear will stop attacking once it doesn’t feel threatened any more.

Remember, bear encounters are not that common, and shouldn’t keep you from enjoying Alaska’s trails. Simply making a lot of noise will reduce your chances significantly.

Come up and visit!