5 October 2017




As fellow students of museums or just museum enthusiasts, I would hope we all share a common goal of appreciating the world’s history and wonders. We want to protect and preserve the art and history of what makes the world itself. But what happens when what we want to preserve is too big to fit within the confines of museum walls? What happens when the history we want to protect is part of nature?

We have institutions like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that help to protect these sites, but the earth is constantly changing. Natural forces such as volcanoes, wind, water, and even humans have been transforming our sense of place since the beginning of time. However, in the last fifty years alone, hundreds of our natural wonders and landmarks around the world have been altered to the point where they will never return to their former states. In light of the recent natural disasters in the United States, Caribbean, and South America, I would like to throw it back to some natural wonders that we have recently lost or are losing at alarming rates.

1. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Source.
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world, covering more than 344,400 square kilometers. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Barrier Reef is suffering from coral bleaching. Up to 50% of the reef has suffered from coral bleaching and is likely due to rising temperatures in the ocean. Bleaching occurs when the warm waters stress the coral and they excrete tiny algae that should be living inside coral tissue. These algae are what feeds the coral and gives it colour. What is happening to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is part of a global trend and will inevitably cause irreversible damage.

2. The Dead Sea, Bordered by Israel, West Bank and Jordan

The Dead Sea. Source.
The Dead Sea has the lowest elevation on Earth. It is known as the Dead Sea due to its high concentration of salt and the inability to sustain large living organisms, such as fish and frogs; only minuscule microbial organisms can sustain life. Because the Dead Sea is a basin, the fresh water brought in by rivers and streams evaporates, leaving salty deposits. Thus, over the last forty years, the Dead Sea has shrunk by over a third and sunk over eighty feet. Though the Dead Sea is shrinking due to climate factors, human forces also are credited. The Dead Sea is increasingly tapped for its waters, and cosmetic companies drain it for its minerals.

3. Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan

Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan. Source.
The Bamiyan Valley is located in the central highlands of Afghanistan and opens into a large basin. The Valley is included in UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites in Danger and represents a cultural landscape of artistic and religious developments of the ancient Bakhtria, which integrates influences of Gandhara school of Buddhist art. However, due to the continued war in the country, the Bamiyan Valley continues to suffer the brunt of war.

4. Elephant Rock, Canada

Elephant Rock, Hopewell Rocks Park, New Brunswick. Source.
Elephant Rock is located off the shores of the Bay of Fundy in Hopewell Rocks Park, New Brunswick, Canada. The site consisted of seventeen massive formations formed by time, wind, and the high tides of the Bay of Fundy. Last spring, the Elephant Rock Flowerpot Formation fell to the ground – roughly 100 to 200 tonnes of rock – closing a passageway where people used to walk.

5. Ténéré Tree, Niger

Metal representation of the Ténéré Tree in Niger. Source.
The Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves in Niger is a site inscribes on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. The Ténéré Tree, once known as the most isolated tree on Earth, was the only acacia to survive in the Sahara desert. A local landmark in the 1930s, it was allegedly run down by a drunk driver in 1973. Today, a simple metal sculpture sits in its place representing this natural wonder.

6. The Everglades National Park, Florida

The Everglades, South Florida. Source.
Located at the southern tip of Florida, the Everglades National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Danger. The Everglades are known for their water habitats, and are home to large numbers of birds and reptiles, including endangered species. Due to urban development, reduced water flow, and pollution, more than half of the Everglades have been destroyed and is in further decline.

So, what can we do to help?

While some things are beyond our control, like war and wind, a lot are direct effects of our actions. There are little things we are able to do to hopefully help preserve our Earth and some of its natural wonders. Little things like conserving water, recycling, and educating ourselves on the effects of our day-to-day actions, as well as consciously shopping and proactively using non-toxic chemicals can help alleviate some of the stresses on the environment, prolonging the wonders it provides us with. As museum studies students, we aim to preserve the history of the world, but we are unable to do that with a deteriorating Earth.

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