The Bucket List - Now you see them, and then you don’t!
Everywhere you look there are lists of things to do, places to visit and food to eat. We are all aware that time is perhaps our most precious commodity and we don’t want to miss out on anything life has to offer. What may come as a shock to many is that the experiences and places they seek out may not be there for their children or their children’s children. Time is running out. Global warming is the main culprit followed by pollution and industrial development.
As we become more aware of the environmental crisis playing out around us we naturally rush to see the places and things that are under threat, this tourism is often a double-edged sword. Yes, the tourism money is much needed but can these places deal with the impact of the tourists themselves on already challenged environments?
Tourism money is critical in helping fund these rescues but it is up to us, the travellers, to make sure we book with reputable operators and make the right choices, it is now more important than ever to travel green, see it, but save it.
1. BELIZE BARRIER REEF
Like its big cousin in Australia, the Belize Barrier Reef is fighting for survival. The Reef is part of the Mesoamerican Reef that runs for nearly 1 127 kms from Mexico to Honduras along what must surely be the fastest developing areas of coastline on our planet. The Belize system suffered severe bleaching in 1998, with a loss of 50% of its distinctive stag horn coral. Global warming, agricultural pollution and development have continued the process. It is regarded as one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and is home to whale sharks, rays and manatees to name a few. The Blue Hole is also found here. Increasing tourism has lead to further coastal development and there has also been an invasion of cruise ships. Belize is now a lot more accessible than it used to be so it falls on the traveller to choose wisely and book with reputable operators.
The bottom line: From R 26 500 per person sharing. (Includes flights, 7 nights accommodation, 5 days diving with 2 dives per day, 1 inland tour). Spring time is a good time to go as winds and seas are normally calm. Summer brings the heat and lower visibility. March to June bring whale sharks to the Gladden Spit area.
2. THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
Speak to any diver and they’ll say they want to dive the Barrier Reef. It’s after all the largest coral reef system in the world stretching more than 350 000 square kilometres and home to more than 1 500 species of fish, 500 species of seaweed and some of the worlds most endangered creatures from turtles to blue whales. Pollution and global warming is causing severe damage to the most complex ecosystem on this planet as carbon-dioxide concentrations in the water increase. The rise in acidity and temperature kills symbiotic algae causing the coral to bleach and die. This disruption in turn has an effect on all the species here. Scientists predict that as the water warms, we are looking at 20 to 50 years until this system completely collapses.
The bottom line: From R 20 900 per person sharing. (Included: flights, 3 nights liveaboard with all meals and diving). Queensland’s warm waters are ideal for year-round diving, however the weather is at its best between August and January. Coral polyps spawn around October.
3. GALAPAGOS ISLANDS
This archipelago and marine reserve off the coast of Ecuador is home to a host of wildlife, including many endangered species. Humans are threatening this delicate ecosystem, which has been disrupted by alien animal and plant species being introduced by visitors.
There is also a poaching problem with a market in exotic animals growing every day. These remote islands are a must for many divers seeking the thrill of diving with sharks. Their location also makes them vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As the equatorial waters in the eastern Pacific get warmer and the sea levels rise, such Galapagos animals as the giant tortoise, marine iguana and Galapagos penguin as well as the flightless cormorant, whose nests are susceptible to flooding, are under serious threat.
There are a number of operators offering trips to the Galapagos, make sure you book with one that has this delicate environments interests at heart.
The bottom line: From R 59 000 per person sharing. (Includes: flights, required nights en route and 7 night liveaboard with all meals and diving). Each month brings unique climate variations and wildlife viewing. Peak season for naturalist tours is December to May when the seas are the calmest and the weather the warmest. Summer months are also very popular as the animals are more active. For divers peak season is from July – November when whale sharks can be found at Wolf & Darwin. Semidry wetsuit recommended, Drysuits are not recommended due to currents.
4. MOUNT KILIMANJARO (Furtwangler Glacier)
Mount Kilimanjaro is a talisman for many African travellers; it’s our own accessible Everest but sadly Africa’s tallest peak has lost 80 percent of its glacier in the last 100 years. Predictions are that it will be completely snow-free by 2033. Since 1912 the ice cap covering the top of the mountain has been losing its ice. From the sprawling plains of the Serengeti, many on safari in Tanzania will stop to snap a photo of Africa’s most iconic snow-capped peak. This glacial recession is seen in the Alps through Europe and in Canada and US. It is caused by several factors: climate change, human activity, and lack of snowfall at the summit and forest reduction in the surrounding areas. As researchers conduct studies and experts fight against climate change, tourists may want to book a trek before the final meltdown.
The bottom line: From R 30 318 for 6 day tour. Climb Kilimanjaro along the Machame route which takes you to the peak along a challenging and exciting path. 5 Nights camping with communal ablution facilities. Meals, activities, porters, cooking equipment and experienced & registered local guides are included. Check the website for best times to go.
5. THE SARDINE RUN
Much as been written about the sardine run which occurs from May to July when billions of sardines (South African pilchards, Sardinops sagax) – spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas current and move north along the east coast of South Africa. This creates a feeding frenzy along the coast. The run moves with the current of cold water from the Agulhas Bank up to Mozambique where it then leaves the coastline and heads out to sea and deeper water. In terms of biomass, researchers estimate the sardine run rivals East Africa’s great wildebeest migration. It is believed that the water temperature has to drop below 21 °C in order for the run to take place. In 2003, the sardines failed to ‘run’ for the third time in 23 years. While 2005 saw a good run, 2006 marked another non-run. One doesn’t need to be a scientist to see that rising ocean temperatures would interfere with this spectacle. Divers have reported seeing smaller and smaller bait balls year after year. Climate change and global warming mean higher water temperatures and unpredictable weather conditions, factor in pollution and predation pressure and one is left wondering whether this incredible show will continue for another 20 years.
The bottom line: From R 17 490 per person sharing for self-drive. (Includes: 7 nights DB&B, 6 days at sea with lunch packs and refreshments, experienced crew, use of cylinders and weights). Pack your personal dive gear, best time in the Transkei is the end of June into July and a little earlier in PE.
6. THE POLES
From the days of Scott and Amundsen, the Poles have held an allure for many a hardcore traveller. The natural phenomena are unique and inspiring: icebergs, Aurora Borealis, polar bears, penguins and whales.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the world’s largest non-profit ocean research group, has predicted that 80 percent of the emperor penguin population of Antarctica will be lost, and the rest are in danger of extinction, if global warming continues. In the Arctic, the polar bear is also endangered by the steady loss of sea ice (which has decreased three percent per decade since the 1970s). But there is more to it than the survival of just two species. As sea ice disappears so do entire ecosystems: the phytoplankton that grows under ice sheets feeds zooplankton and small crustaceans like krill, which are on the food chain for fish, seals, whales, polar bears and penguins. Studies predict that with continued warming, within 20-40 years, no ice will form in Antarctica.
There are specialised tour operators who conduct tours to both Poles, these need to be planned well advance and can only happen at the right time of year. Be warned they are not cheap but well worth the effort.
The bottom line: From R 69 000 per person sharing (Includes: flights, 3 nights in Iqaluit and 4 day dive adventure from Iqaluit, Nunavut). Dive in the Arctic around Frobisher Bay (Baffin Island)– home of the second largest tides in the world. The air temperatures can range from -10°C up to +5°C in winter. The dive sites will have a heated tent to change in. The water temperature will be -1°C. Dry suits are must. The dives will be through holes or natural openings in the sea ice that are widening to the snow melt. August summer dive adventures include open water and boats.
7. THE DEAD SEA
It is the lowest point on earth, (418m below sea level); with a salinity of 33.7 percent making it 10 times more saline than seawater, it’s also in danger of drying up completely. The Dead Sea, in Jordan’s Rift Valley, is rich with cultural and religious significance, visitors flock to the area to float like corks in its waters and smear themselves with the mud, which is believed to have medicinal properties. The majority of its water sources have been cut off, polluted or diverted. The water level is said to have dropped by one metre a year since 1970 leaving luxury resorts stranded nearly 3 kilometres away on the original shoreline. The sea relies on the Jordan River as its sole resource; this resource is threatened as the surrounding developing countries demand for water increases. There is further pressure from cosmetic companies who drain the sea for its minerals. Scientists say the sea would be truly dead and gone in 50 years if steps are not taken.
If visiting the Dead Sea, choose a desert safari with a Bedouin tent experience rather than the luxury 5 star spa resorts.
The bottom line: From R 7 800 per person sharing (Includes: flights, 5 nights accommodation, breakfasts). Water temperatures vary between 18° C in January to 28°-35° C in August. Visibility ranges from 1 up to 20 metres. The Diving season is all year around.
Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, has spent millions of years in isolation in the Indian Ocean. More than 80 percent of its flora and fauna is found nowhere else on earth. Researchers and environmentalists fear that if nothing is done its forests will be gone in 35 years along with their unique inhabitants. Logging, burning for subsistence farms and poaching, is destroying the forest ecosystems. The 20 species of lemurs the island is famous for are all under threat. There are small game reserves, but they only occupy five percent of the island and fail to provide corridors for the animals to travel through. Some of Madagascar’s endemic species have yet to be recorded and they may be lost before people know of them. Due to the islands size and infrastructure don’t expect to see it all at once. Pick an area that offers what you are after and choose the best way to get there.
The bottom line: From R 12 780 per person sharing. (Includes: flights via Antananarivo to Nose Be, 6 nights accommodation on a half board, 1 night stopover in Antananarivo, transfers. Dive packages from R3 550 for 4 days of 2 dives a day, with cylinders, weights and dive guide.) Bring your diving equipment, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and mozzie repellant. Enjoy kayaking, cycling and quad biking. And learning to speak French.
This group of islands in the Indian Ocean is second only to Mauritius as a honeymoon destination for many South Africans seeking the postcard island holiday. The Maldives, made up of over 1 000 islands and atolls, 200 of which are inhabited, is the lowest nation in the world and rises to a mere metre above sea level.
It comes as no surprise then that global warming and subsequent rising sea levels would not be good for this jewel of a country. At current rates this palm tree fringed haven could very well be underwater by 2050. In 2009 the president, Mohamed Nasheed, went as far as holding an underwater cabinet meeting to call attention to the crisis and to campaign for a reduction in global carbon emissions. The country is rich in coral reefs and endangered species including the giant Napoleon wrasse and leopard shark to name two. Get there soon.
The bottom line: From R 22 900 per person sharing. (Includes: flights via the Middle East, 7 nights half board). Liveaboard based for 7 nights from R 26 900. January to April are considered the best months for diving. May and June can have unstable weather, and storms and cloudy days are common until September. October and November brings reduced visibility because of plankton in the water. Room, meal/drinks upgrades are available. Strictly no alcohol or sleezey material allowed into the Maldives.
10. SHARK DIVING IN SOUTH AFRICA
I was shocked to discover that shark diving along the South African east coast had made it on to a number of lists put together on activities that have an unpredictable future. How is this possible? Surely with the support of divers and tourism bodies we have assured its future. It seems not. Human taste for shark meat means that the ocean’s predators are quickly becoming endangered. Hunted for their meat, fins – a delicacy in Asia and their cartilage for medicine, numbers are rapidly dropping. This and unfounded fears over shark diving industry practices and the safety of other ocean users mean seeing a shark swimming freely in its natural habitat could become a thing of the past. Shark nets and calls for culling programmmes like the ones decided on by the governments of Reunion and Western Australia are warnings of what awaits us locally if we don’t make our feelings heard and support the sharks and the operators who work to protect them.
The bottom line: From R 1 100 for snorkelling. Getting up close to sharks in KZN can vary from a swimming or snorkelling experience in the confines of a cage to full dive on scuba for qualified divers. Blue Wilderness offers two hours minimum with a marine biologist. Kids under 14 from R 800.
Source: The Divesite