Photo Essay: Disappearing Places

By Ella Frances Sanders, Illustrator in Residence Share

There is all the time in the world. Or is there? For many places on our planet, the clock is ticking. Today we are more informed and more aware than ever before, and yet we still seem to be running headlong towards some kind of mass extinction of animal and plant life and also of the remarkable places that they live in. Future generations should be able to see, taste, smell, feel, and experience the wonders of the world in person - not simply read about them among the pages of history books.

One of the reasons we see travel, and the act of sharing our experiences when we travel, as such an important and integral part of our lives is that it gives us a real appreciation for the diversity of life and of places all over the world. It makes us feel incredibly lucky to have already had the chance to explore and discover some of these places, it ignites a fire in our bellies to see more, travel more, and to marvel more at the world, and it also makes us realise that we want to help make sure those places are around for many years to come. We hope that you, as part of a community that is passionate about places and about travelling, will feel the same.

This collection contains 20 photographs taken in places that are disappearing and - despite the best efforts of many - might not be here in 50 years time. We should also point out here that we do not possess particular scientific expertise on the topics we have written about below. Many times there are also varying opinions within the scientific community itself. However, we have done our best to research the facts as thoroughly as possible, and we welcome any input, comments or updates.

We hope that you will read, learn and dream (maybe even act) on behalf of these unique and remarkably fragile places. Many thanks to all the charming photographers for sharing their beautiful compositions.


1 | Galapagos Islands, Ecuador by Mamun Humayun

This incredible ecosystem is too fragile to cope with imported non-native species and illegal fishing, let alone the hundreds of thousands of visitors it receives each year. With most of its creatures found nowhere else on Earth, that alone seems like an excellent reason to ensure that these remarkable, remote islands can go on evolving and living as naturally as possible.

For over 50 years, WWF have been working to protect the islands and in 1998, the Ecuadorian government created the Galápagos Special Law to protect the ecosystem.

Earth’s crammed with heaven... But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning

2 | Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica by Julien Lebreton

Cloud forests are rare places, covering just 1 per cent of global woodland. They only occur when the atmospheric conditions allow for consistent cloud cover and if climate change reduces this cloud coverage, increases in temperature could potentially cause their entire hydrological systems to collapse.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica has been protecting the area since 1972, initially covering 810 acres it now reaches across 35,000 and within its bounds live over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles.

Earth is the source of light.
— Dejan Stojanovic

3 | The Maldives by Mohamed Latheef

80 per cent of the islands that make up the Maldives are less than 1 meter above sea level, which means that in under 100 years time they could be uninhabitable. Coral bleaching has already destroyed 90% of the coral reefs.

The situation is so serious that back in 2008 the government started buying land in other countries to build homes for displaced citizens in the future.

What you take from the earth, you must give back. That’s nature’s way.
— Chris d'Lacey

4 | Rainforests of Papua New Guinea by Rhys Lennings

Papua New Guinea is home to the world’s third largest rainforest, and is home to many different microclimates, and also to many species of plant and animal that are found nowhere else on Earth. Trees are being cut down left, right and center with little regard for the consequences, and satellite images show such vast areas of destruction that if things continue as they are, nearly all accessible forest will be destroyed or degraded.

However, small scale forestry and other eco projects are becoming more common, and awareness and understanding of the negative effects of exploitive logging on rural communities is starting to spread.

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
— Kahlil Gibran

5 | Great Barrier Reef, Australia by Tanya Puntti

The only living thing visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef has been growing for an estimated 8,000 years. That is a remarkable amount of creation and life. Various problems (including rising water temperatures, pollution, and ocean acidification) have contributed to mass coral bleaching of the reef. On the global scale, it is estimated that 60 per cent of the world’s coral reefs may have disappeared by 2030.

Underwater photographer David Doubilet shares his interesting perspective on the reef in this National Geographic interview.

...the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.
— Wendell Berry

6 | The Everglades, Florida by Richard Davis

Mangroves, open prairies, hardwood forests and pine savannahs are among the amazing spectrum of habitats contributing to this 2.5 million acre wetland in Florida, which is now half the size it was in 1900. Various dangers threaten this fragile ecosystem, including pollution from farms and the fact that 60 per cent of the water in the region is being diverted to farms and cities - unsurprisingly, a wetland needs water to survive.

The Everglades Coalition is ‘an alliance of more than fifty local, state and national conservation and environmental organizations dedicated to full restoration of the greater Everglades ecosystem.'

...Mother Earth no longer accepts our presence with silence.
— Dalai Lama XIV

7 | Hudson Bay, Canada by Michelle Valberg

Fast forward only 20 or 30 years and the likelihood of finding a polar bear in the wild is slim to none. Long before the last ice melts, they will have lost their den sites, feeding grounds and migration routes.

Although there are ongoing research programs, and no polar bears have been studied more closely than the population in Hudson Bay, right now the outlook isn’t great. Hopefully there is a bright side, but in the meantime there’s an increasing number of extremely sobering interviews such as this one with biologist Andrew Derocher.

I wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth.
— Henry David Thoreau

8 | The Amazon Rainforest by Keith Hull

You may already know that these rainforests produce over 40 per cent of the world’s oxygen and that they are the most diverse, species-rich ecosystem on our planet. What you may not know is that it's disappearing at a rate of around 20,000 square miles a year, and that if nothing is done, the entire Amazon could be gone within 50 years.

What can the average joe do to help save this incredible and precious part of the planet? Perhaps start with only buying wood/paper products from legal and well-managed sources - those that have the FSC label.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.
— John Muir

9 | The Dead Sea, Jordan by Kristina Sloth

It may be fairly common knowledge that the Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth - at 1,312 feet below sea level - however, most people won't know that in the last 40 years it has shrunk by an entire third. Its only source of water is the Jordan River, and with surrounding countries draining the river's waters before they can reach the salty lake and cosmetic companies extracting huge quantities of minerals, the sea may well be completely dried up within 50 years time.

There is a proposed (and somewhat controversial) solution of a Red-Dead Canal, which would involve channeling water 112 miles from the Red Sea - however the environmental impact could be a negative one and it might increase seismic activity in the area.

Each moment spent on this bright blue planet is precious so use it carefully.
— Santosh Kalwar

10 | Yangtze River Basin, China by Marshall Segal

The photo below was taken in September 2008, before the Three Gorges Dam flooded the Yangtze River. Many exotic creatures (giant pandas, snow leopards, finless porpoises, dwarf blue sheep, siberian cranes) call the region home, along with some 400 million people. The impact of the dam has been far-reaching - flooding villages, farms, factories and even mines, adding to the existing pollution problems, subjecting large areas of land to deforestation, and not forgetting that it caused various landslides.

The government maintains some 50 reserves in an effort to save giant pandas from extinction, WWF recently published some rare photos/footage of these elusive creatures.

Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.
— Kahlil Gibran

11 | Madagascar by Pierre Adnin

The world’s fourth largest island is well known, and most people have heard at some point that nearly all of it’s flora and fauna (over 80 per cent) is found nowhere else on Earth. However, only 20,000 of an original 120,000 square miles of forest are left, and this small area that remains is still being subjected to logging, subsistence farming and poaching.

The government of Madagascar has an ‘ambitious vision to make the country's biodiversity the foundation of the nation's wealth’, and conservation trust Durrell is on a mission to save species from extinction in places like Madagascar.

Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.
— Gary Snyder

12 | The North and South Poles by Sam Dobson

If global warming continues, it has been predicted (by the world’s largest non-profit ocean research group) that 80 per cent of Antarctica’s emperor penguin population will be lost. At the other end of the Earth, as we mentioned above, the polar bear is suffering from the steady loss of sea ice.

These frozen extremities are crucial for regulating our planet’s climate and both directly and indirectly support many important ecosystems on the planet. It's no secret that drastic changes need to happen on a global level if we are to preserve these areas.

The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth.
— Chief Seattle

13 | The Alps by Helmut Flatscher

These famous glaciers - which are at relatively low altitude and therefore more susceptible to global warming - could have vanished by 2050. The glaciers here have lost 20 per cent of their size since the 1980’s.

People who live and work in the mountains are incredibly aware of the receding ice, and the impact will hit the area hard in the next 20 to 30 years - tourism in the Alps has a questionable future.

I see Earth! It is so beautiful.
— Yuri Gagarin

14 | Belize Barrier Reef by Tony Rath

Reaching from Mexico to Honduras, this section of the Mesoamerican Reef now leads a tenuous existence. In some places, 50 per cent of its coral has been lost and since a mass bleaching caused by months of unusually high temperatures in 1998 it has continued to decline.

Nearly 1000 square kilometers of the reef are now protected by the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.

The paradox of life lies exactly in this: its resources are finite, but it itself is endless.
— I.I. Gitelson

15 | Himalayan Glaciers by Jared Lim

Sitting atop the highest mountain range in the world, these glaciers are the source of seven of the largest rivers in Asia, and the current melt rate means that many could have disappeared by 2035. In the beginning, there was some discussion about whether they were melting or growing, but as it turns out not only are they retreating, they are doing so at an alarmingly high rate. Glacial-lake outbursts (effectively devastatingly large floods) are also a serious possibility.

...and I wonder if there is any way to adequately describe the folly that causes us to undo all the great gifts of both Earth and Heaven.
— James Lee Burke

16 | The Congo Basin by William White

Extending across seven different nations, the second largest rainforest in the world is vanishing scarily fast - 10 million acres of forest are effectively lost each year to mining, farming, illegal logging, guerilla warfare and an illegal wildlife trade - and the UN has predicted that by 2040 up to two thirds could be gone.

On the bright side: one of the most famous species in the area under threat, the gorilla, has a dedicated following behind them.

What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. Don’t waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary.
— Jay Griffiths

17 | Tuvalu by Joe Hitchcock 

This tiny Polynesian island nation (at only 10 square miles it is the fourth smallest country in the world) is a mere 4.5 meters above sea level at its highest point, and it is rapidly vanishing into the Pacific Ocean. It has already suffered from flash flooding and freshwater shortages, and its concerned government has purchased land in Fiji and resettled some of the population.

This short video about the impact climate change is having upon fresh water in Tuvalu (also from Joe Hitchcock, who took the photo below) is very interesting.

Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again.
— Cormac McCarthy

18 | The Columbia Glacier, Alaska by Navid Baraty 

This majestic glacier, a not entirely insignificant 54 kilometers wide, could be transformed into a large fjord within as little as a decade. Melting glaciers can cause sea levels to rise, threaten populations living on low lying coastal areas, and also those communities that rely on glacier-fed rivers for drinking water and irrigation. By 2020, the glacier is expected to retreat 15 more kilometers - until its mass rests solely on solid ground, above sea level.

The earth reflects the sky and the sky meets the earth and, every now and then, if we’re lucky, we have a moment to see how small we are.
— Ally Condie

19 | Kivalina, Alaska by Inna

Kivalina is home to around 375 Inupiat eskimos, and it sits at the tip of an 8-mile long barrier reef in Alaska - its very existence is threatened as it is slowly displaced by the rising sea. In 2008, Kivalina sued a multitude of companies (not with the best of outcomes) claiming that greenhouse gases these companies emitted contributed to global warming, and therefore jeopardising the community’s existence. You can read this book about it.

The Earth is what we all have in common.
— Wendell Berry

20 | Bwindi National Park, Uganda by K. Chae

The last few surviving mountain gorillas can be found here. Sadly, although they were only discovered in 1902, it is now barely a century later and they are on the verge of extinction. Their habitat is shrinking year by year - as the climate warms, their high altitude ecosystems retreat even higher, effectively leaving them homeless. It also doesn’t help that they live in countries devastated by famine, drought and war.

People would rather believe than know.
— Edward O. Wilson

 On the bright side, there is almost always something that can be done, nearly every problem has a solution or we can at least adapt in a more sustainable manner, and the ways to help are usually easier and more obvious than most people think.


Thanks for taking the time to peruse these beautiful photos of disappearing places. If you have a moment, why not tweet this post and @mention any friends who you think might also enjoy this photo essay.

We also think that you will enjoy reading some of our other recent blog posts. Here are a couple you may enjoy perusing...

Rolf Potts in Paris - we waxed lyrical about his vagabonding misadventures and flâneuring in Paris.

Wanderlove - we defy you to not feel an urge to visit a few of these magnificent places. 

Date added
Location Tagahzout, Morocco