See These Photos Of Earth’s Most Beautiful Places–Before They Disappear

Climate change and over-tourism are destroying some of the world’s most rare and beautiful places.

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.

2. Skiing the Chacaltaya Glacier in 1985.©Eva Sjöqvist Wenzer

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).

5. Sunset reflected in Boeung Kak Lake in 2006.©Andrew Hall

“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.”

19. La Vache Qui Tombe – The Falling Cow.  Grotte de Lascaux, Montignac (Dordogne) Grand taureau noir Cliché N. Aujoulat.©MCC Centre national de préhistoire

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?”


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."