Anavilhanas Reserve, Brazil
Photograph by James P. Blair, NGS Image Collection
Researchers collect fish in Brazil's Anavilhanas Reserve in the Amazon Basin, which contains more than half of the planet's remaining rain forests.
On July 21, 2009, the species-rich region was named one of 28 finalists for the New7Wonders of Nature, a global contest that allows people to vote for the seven wonders of the natural world by Internet and phone, American Idol style.
(See all 28 of the finalists on the New7Wonders Web site.)
An expert panel helped the New7Wonders Foundation--the brainchild of Swiss filmmaker and museum curator Bernard Weber--choose the finalists based on unique beauty, ecological significance, and historical legacy, among other criteria.
"This is an extraordinary achievement and the eyes of the planet will be upon these 28 stunning locations for the next two years," Weber said in a statement.
Chosen by what the foundation hopes will be a billion voters, the winning seven wonders are to be announced in 2011.
In July 2007 the foundation announced the New Seven Wonders of the World, backed by more than a hundred million votes.
Jonathan Tourtellot, director of the National Geographic Society's Center for Sustainable Destinations, warns that the new natural wonders may be inundated with harmful tourism if their countries do not have a robust stewardship ethic. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
"When you draw attention to a place, you are automatically raising the tourism ante on that place. So if the place is not prepared for the increasing tourism that something like this might create, then there could be problems," he said.
But the Amazon, which spans 2,702,715 square miles (7 million square kilometers) in nine countries, is "not suffering from excess tourism, it's suffering from not enough tourism as a counterpoint for other uses in the Amazon Basin," such as lumbering or large-scale farming, Tourtellot explained.
July 21, 2009
Angel Falls, Venezuela
Photograph by Robert Madden, National Geographic Stock
The world's tallest waterfall was named one of 28 finalists in an international contest to decide the seven wonders of the natural world via popular vote. At 3,287 feet (1,002 meters) tall, Angel Falls is more than 19 times taller than North America's Niagara Falls.
The falls are also situated in a region full of tepuis—tabletop mountains unique to northern South America—which are "in danger from inappropriate or thoughtless resource development, like power lines cutting through scenic areas," National Geographic sustainable-tourism expert Jonathan Tourtellot said.
"Tepui country could do for more tourism as an economic counterforce for that kind of thoughtless development," added Tourtellot, who is also spearheading the second-annual Geotourism Challenge, where voters chose places "they consider most cutting edge in providing visitors with authentic travel experiences, whether in a big city or a remote spot."
July 21, 2009
Photograph by James L. Stanfield, National Geographic Stock
One of the 28 New7Wonders of Nature finalists, the Maldives are made up of 1,192 small islands (including the above), but people live on only about 200 of them.
Even fewer of those islands will be inhabited if climate change continues to raise sea levels in the Indian Ocean, particularly around the low-lying capital of Maale (Male), experts say. (See pictures of Maale (Male) and other places endangered by climate change.)
If the Maldives make it to the final seven-wonders list, the resulting attention may inspire more action on climate change, Tourtellot suggested.
"It might get some needed conversations going, and that would be a good thing."
July 21, 2009
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Photograph by Chitose Suzuki, AP
Halong Bay is home to idyllic islands and floating villages of fishers who ply the shallow waters for more than 200 species of fish.
The bay has become a popular tourist attraction and was named one of 28 finalists for the New7Wonders of Nature contest, announced on July 21, 2009.
Yet the 600-square-mile (1,553-square-kilometer) bay will get a "lousy score" on the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations 2009 Destination Scorecard, an annual listing of the world's best preserved tourism spots, Tourtellot said. The 2009 list will be released in October 2009.
"A lot of the problem is in a heavily trafficked tourist area in one section and irresponsible development on the shoreline [that's] really messing it up," Tourtellot said of Halong. "Once you get away from that area, it's really nice."
July 21, 2009
Dead Sea, Israel and Jordan
Photograph by Frank and Helen Schreider, National Geographic Stock
The Dead Sea (above, a boater rowing in Jordan) faces a combination of natural and human-made challenges, such as declining water levels and large-scale development.
The giant salt lake, which sits between Israel and Jordan, has received low ratings on past Destination Scorecards, Tourtellot said.
The sea is one of 28 finalists in the New7Wonders of Nature contest, announced July 21, 2009.
When the final cut is made in 2011, the new world wonders may either be overrun with damaging tourism or become better-managed destinations, Tourtellot said.
"It depends on the stewardship ethic in those places. In New Zealand the stewardship ethic is high. In Abu Dhabi it's totally clueless, and you've got everything in between."
July 21, 2009
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Photograph by Sam Abell, National Geographic Stock
The giant Galápagos tortoise (above, a tortoise near the rim of the Alcedo Volcano) is one of the many species on the Galápagos Islands that are found nowhere else on Earth.
But these unique species "are in considerable danger from irresponsible visitation by large cruise ships and inappropriate development," Tourtellot said.
Though the islands' rating on National Geographic's Destination Scorecards has improved slightly in recent years, the area is "still very much on the cusp," he said.
"When you visit the Galápagos, make sure you're doing that with a responsible tour operator."
The volcanic archipelago, about 600 miles (965 kilometers) west of mainland Ecuador, was named one of the 28 finalists in the New7Wonders of Nature contest on July 21, 2009.
July 21, 2009
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