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Pictures: Now or Never? 9 Places to See Before They Slip Away
By Christine Dell'Amore,
National Geographic News, 25 June 2012.

1. Dead Sea

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Want to float in the salty waters of the Dead Sea? Go now - the giant lake's water level has sunk more than 80 feet (25 meters) in the past 40 years due to water diversion. That sinking feeling may be familiar at eight other desirable destinations identified as especially at-risk.

Bordering Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank, the Dead Sea already sits in the lowest place on Earth.

In the 1950s countries in the Middle East, including Jordan and Israel, cut off the River Jordan's supply to the Dead Sea to gain drinking water. The move severely lowered the lake's water level - a loss that continues by up to a meter (four feet) a year.

However, the Jordan National Red Sea Development Project is working to replenish the Dead Sea by diverting water from the Red Sea and enacting stricter environmental measures, among other strategies, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. (See "Diverting Red Sea to Save Dead Sea Could Create Environmental Crisis.")

2. Kyoto, Japan

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As the ancient city of Kyoto (pictured) goes modern, many of its traditional machiya townhouses are being lost to the wrecking ball, according to Erica Avrami, research and education director for the World Monuments Fund.

"That's understandable in a growing and thriving urban environment," but "at the same time, these are such important historical's important they're not all lost," Avrami said.

The machiya, which date to Japan's Edo Period (1603 to 1867), once functioned as both houses and workplaces for Kyoto's merchant class.

The World Monuments Fund put the townhouses on their 2010 and 2012 watch lists, and has worked with Japanese revitalization groups to restore some machiya.

"The machiya represent a concerted effort [to] have a good mix of the new and contemporary as well as the traditional within a thriving city."

3. Solomon Islands

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Black-tipped reef sharks swarm Tetapare, the largest uninhabited tropical island in the Southern Hemisphere.

So far, the island has been spared the fate of many of the Solomon Islands, which "are being ravaged by rampant logging," according to Conservation International amphibian expert Robin Moore.

If you go, expect "a glimpse of a true, pristine island paradise - you can swim with dugongs and shoals of black-tipped reef sharks" at Tetapare, Moore said.

4. Glacier National Park, Montana

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Montana's Glacier National Park may soon face an identity crisis: Some scientists have predicted the park will be glacier free by 2020 due to climate change, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

In 1910, when the park was founded, there were likely about 150 glaciers in the area, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems program. A century later, in 2010, only 25 glaciers larger than 25 acres (10 hectares) remained.

"The loss of glaciers in [the park] will have significant consequences for park ecosystems as well as impacting landscape aesthetics valued by park visitors," according to the program website.

For instance, without the glacial "bank" of fresh water that's released regularly into streams, the water bodies will become warmer, causing some aquatic species to suffer or die out - including trout and salmon varieties.

5. Bhutan

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As long-isolated Bhutan (pictured: the town of Paro) embraces the outside world, there's a "balancing act" the Buddhist country has to strike between tourism and historic traditions, noted the World Monument Fund's Avrami. (Learn about Bhutan's renaissance in National Geographic magazine.)

For instance, monks living at the remote Phajoding Monastery (not pictured) have to "undertake their spiritual livelihood, but at the same time be open and welcoming to visitors," Avrami said. "The more visitors the get, the more difficult it is to achieve that balance.

"Because of ways the country is changing, and the way it's opening up to is the time to see Bhutan," Avrami said.

6. Atlantic Forest, South America

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Shown abutting the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte in 2004, the species-rich Atlantic Forest originally spanned 520,000 square miles (1.35 million square kilometres) in Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay.

But due to an expansion of logging and agriculture, the forest is now less than 7 percent its original size, and exists mainly as isolated patches, some less than 6 acres (24 hectares). (Read "The Rain forest in Rio's Backyard.")

Conservation International's Moore recommends staying in an ecolodge in the Serra Bonita range in the Brazilian state of Bahia, which "offers a chance to experience some of the last remaining montane Atlantic Forest in the region."

7. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

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They've been around for at least 10,000 years, but Mount Kilimanjaro's glaciers (pictured) have shrunk by 80 percent in roughly the past century, according to the UN.

The combined impact of global warming and changes in land use have likely contributed to glacial decline on Africa's tallest mountain. (Test your Africa knowledge.)

Whatever the reason, book that hike now - it appears as if Kilimanjaro's snows, made famous by Ernest Hemingway, will be completely gone by 2022, scientists said in 2009.

8. The Everglades, Florida

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The Everglades has had its share of troubles, from invasive pythons to polluted waters to damaging recreation practices (pictured, power boats slice through sea-grass beds).

But the low-lying ecosystem of saw grass and mangroves could be permanently altered if it's inundated with salt water due to sea level rise in coming decades, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

Core samples, tide-gauge readings, and satellite measurements show that, over the past century, the global mean sea level has risen by 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimetres), according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Under some projections, the remaining pine tracts in Everglades National Park may completely disappear with the influx of salt water. In addition, the park's shallow marshes - home to species such as the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, listed as endangered by the U.S. - could also shrink.

9. Maldives

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Smoke rises from burning waste on Thilafushi, Maldives, the lowest-lying country on Earth - and therefore among the most threatened by potential sea level rise, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates could total up to 23 inches (60 centimetres) by 2099. (Read related blog: "Maldives, Ground Zero for Climate Change Impacts.")

Only 200 of the country's 1,192 small islands are inhabited. That number could fall further if sea level rise accelerates in the Indian Ocean, particularly around the low-lying capital of Male, experts say.

Top image: Dead Sea (left) and Maldives (right)

[Source: National Geographic News. Edited. Top image added.]

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