Fifteen years ago, it was possible to ski down Mount Chacaltaya in Bolivia, following the path of an ancient glacier that gave the mountain its name (“bridge of ice”). But by 2005, the glacier–at that point, more than 18,000 years old, and a critical source of water for nearby cities–had disappeared, an early victim of climate change.
A new photo series called Disappearing World shows a handful of places around the world that either recently disappeared–like the Bolivian glacier, or a landmark lake in Cambodia that was paved over in 2011–or that may soon dramatically change, like the Great Barrier Reef. The photos were collected by a U.K. travel agency as they thought about what sustainable and responsible tourism actually means (and also to get people to travel more).
“We thought it would be really interesting to track down people who had visited these ‘disappeared’ places and hear their stories,” says Alison Parcell from Staysure, the agency. “We decided to include a handful of destinations which are currently at risk–hoping that when faced with the prospect of losing these treasured places, people would be motivated to really think about the impact of mass tourism, environmental damage, and urban development.”
Some places, not surprisingly, are at risk precisely because so many people want to visit them. “Sometimes, important sites can be loved to death,” she says. The Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux in Southern France were open to the public for a little over a decade before they were so damaged that they were closed to everyone but researchers; the Nazca Lines in Peru are easily damaged if someone steps in the wrong place.
“Many of the world’s most popular tourist destinations are struggling to keep up with ever-growing numbers of visitors,” says Parcell. “We think Disappearing World provokes an interesting question–should people flock to see these ‘at risk’ places before it’s too late–in a bid to curb the ‘fear of missing out’ feeling? Or should people take a step back, allowing them to hopefully be preserved for future generations?”