The New7Wonders of Nature campaign, organized by the New7Wonders Foundation in 2007, is a global poll whose purpose is to designate the world’s seven most outstanding natural wonders. The field has been narrowed from 440 down to 77 and now just 28 “Official Finalist Candidates” with voting scheduled to end on November 11th, 2011.
The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest contiguous tropical rainforest comprising approximately 5.5 million square kilometers (1.4 billion acres) and spreading over parts of 9 nations including (in order) Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. It’s estimated the Amazon Rainforest has existed for roughly 55 million years though its size has waxed and waned appreciably over that vast period of time.
(image via: UCLAST203-2010)
Approximately 10 percent of all the world’s animal species live in the Amazon basin with the number of insect species alone reckoned to be around 2.5 million. Both animal and plant life in the Amazon Rainforest are under threat, both by human activity and climate change. Though conservation measures have helped reduce the rate of deforestation by up to 60 percent, cumulatively the rainforest has lost about 10 percent of its former area.
Angel Falls (Venezuela)
Angel Falls is located in eastern Venezuela’s Canaima National Park where water pours off the Auyan-tepui mountain, dropping 3,212 ft (979 m) into the Kerep River. The falls were officially discovered in 1933 by Jimmie Angel, an American aviator hired to scout out metal ore deposits. Angel returned to the area in 1937 and attempted to land atop Auyan-tepui but his plane was damaged; the aircraft was not recovered until 1970 and is currently on display at nearby Ciudad Bolívar airport.
(image via: Bernard Sayers & Tom Sanders)
Venezuela’s outspoken president, Hugo Chavez, is known for his anti-American views and has long taken issue with the naming of Angel Falls. In 2009 Chavez stated, “This is ours, long before Angel ever arrived there… this is indigenous property.” Though he has not formally decreed that Angel Falls be renamed, Chavez continues to defend the use of its indigenous name, “Kerepakupai Vená”, which means “waterfall of the deepest place.”
Bay of Fundy (Canada)
The Bay of Fundy partially divides the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia with a small portion of its outer shore edging into the American state of Maine. The bay’s roughly funnel-shaped bay concentrates tidal surges resulting in water level differentials as much as 53.5 feet (16.3 meters).
(image via: Famous Wonders)
Though many power-generation schemes have been proposed to try and exploit the massive movements of water in the bay, studies indicate interruptions to the tidal flow could have deleterious repercussions to the environment. In addition, the governments involved are cognizant of the Bay of Fundy’s worldwide fame and reap great economic benefits from travel and tourism.
Black Forest (Germany)
The Black Forest (Schwarzwald, in German) is situated in Germany’s far southwestern corner and encompasses an area of approximately 4,600 square mi1es or 2,000 square kilometers. Its name harkens back over 2,000 years to when the area was part of Imperial Rome’s province of Germania Superior. The forest’s extensive conifer stands blocked sunlight from reaching the forest floor, prompting the Romans to dub the forest “Silva Nigra” (Black Forest).
The Black Forest region has resisted industrialization and today is a center of outdoor recreation and tourism. Famed for the elaborate Cuckoo Clocks carved by its inhabitants for centuries, the Black Forest also lends its name to flavorful smoked ham and delicious chocolate cherry cakes.
Bu Tinah (UAE)
Bu Tinah island and its associated shoals and reefs are located in the Persian Gulf just off the western coast of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. As part of the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, Bu Tinah’s extensive network of shoals, reefs, lagoons and sandbars enjoy some degree of protection but remained threatened by rapid development in and around the UAE.
(image via: StanleyHartmann/Panoramio)
Bu Tinah’s coral reefs are distinctive in that the waters surrounding them are unusually warm and salty. As such, the reefs are extremely sensitive to climate change and act as a sort of a living laboratory where the effects of Global Warming can be monitored. In addition, the shallow lagoons offer hospital habitats to hundreds of endangered Dugongs, a type of sea mammal related to manatees.
Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
The spectacular Cliffs of Moher hug the western Irish coast and mark the western border of County Clare. Towering up to 702 feet (214 meters) above breaking Atlantic Ocean waves, the Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions and have been featured in films such as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Princess Bride, and many others.
(image via: Port Wallpaper)
The Cliff of Moher are crowned at their highest point by the small, cylindrical O’Brien’s Tower. Built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O’Brien, the tower was meant to accommodate Victorian-era visitors to whom word of the area’s great scenic beauty had already spread. O’Brien was a pioneer in this respect, foreseeing that tourism could do much to help lift the area’s residents from poverty.
Dead Sea (Israel, Jordan, Palestinian Authority)
(images via: Atlas Tours)
The Dead Sea is the lowest lake on Earth and, unfortunately, it’s getting even lower. The lake, which was once much larger, is fed by rivers which have had some portion of their flow diverted for local agricultural irrigation. The reduced flow is now not enough to counteract water loss due to evaporation in the region’s hot, arid climate. Some studies have indicated the Dead Sea could dry up completely within just a few decades.
(image via: Fantom-XP)
The extreme salinity of the Dead Sea’s waters has the effect of increasing the buoyancy of swimmers to an astonishing degree. As well, the waters and mud in and around the Dead Sea carry a plethora of salts and minerals said to be beneficial to health. Even those who neither swim nor apply the mineral-rich mud to their skin can enjoy health benefits just by being at the Dead Sea – the low level of the lake results in the air having a higher concentration of life-giving oxygen.
El Yunque (USA, Puerto Rico)
El Yunque, located in central Puerto Rico, is the only tropical rainforest in the United States. Easily accessible and boasting an abundance of wildlife, El Yunque offers tourists the complete “rainforest experience” while maintaining convenience to first-world facilities. As such, El Yunque has emerged as a valuable educational resource where the rainforest ecosystem can be studied and enjoyed by everyone.
(image via: Atabey Tours)
El Yunque’s rough and mountainous geology helps ensure this essential environmental treasure poses no temptation to small farmers or large corporate plantations. In fact, the extensive botanical diversity exhibited by El Yunque has aroused interest from niche groups hoping to practice sustainable harvesting of exotic foodstuffs and medicinal plants.
Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
It can confidently be stated that Charles Darwin’s exploration of the Galapagos Islands in the 1830s paved the way for the publication of his monumental book on evolution, The Origin of Species, in 1859. The fertile yet separate islands in the Galapagos archipelago have acted, over time, to spur many evolutionary events which resulted in the creation of new species. Even today, new evolutionary discoveries such as the Pink Iguana (above right) are being made in the Galapagos Islands.
(image via: ASA100)
Volcanic in origin, the Galapagos Islands have existed in relative isolation of the Pacific Ocean coast of Ecuador for many thousands of years. Once plundered by whalers and sealers in the 19th century, the islands’ odd menagerie of unique animals have made strong recoveries and now enjoy protection from human predation and exploitation.
Grand Canyon (USA)
The expression “you’ve gotta see it to believe it” was seemingly coined for the incredible vastness of the Grand Canyon. Carved out of the American Southwest’s thick layers of multicolored (but mainly red) sandstone by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is an “open book” displaying tens of millions of years of geologic history.
(image via: Fun On The Net)
The recent building of a horseshoe-shaped, glass-bottomed Skywalk allows visitors to test their tolerance for acrophobia while showcasing the rich beauty of the canyon from a previously unavailable point of view. Weather conditions are typically bright and sunny though the view has suffered in recent years from winds bring smog and pollution eastward from cities and industries on the California coast.
Great Barrier Reef (Australia)
Easily visible from orbit, the Great Barrier Reef hugs the eastern coast of Australia and is by far the Earth’s largest coral reef community. The ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef supports countless plant and animal species from microscopic plankton up to the largest sharks and whales.
(image via: Beautiful Scenery)
Built up over thousands of years by colonies of coral, the Great Barrier Reef may be huge in size but at the same time, it’s profoundly sensitive to pollution, predation and climate change. Recent incidents involving cargo ships striking the reef and leaking fuel oil have dramatized the reef’s fragile beauty yet its exceptional length and breadth mean it’s virtually impossible to avoid similar accidents in the future.
Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)
Situated in the northern part of Vietnam near the Gulf of Tonkin, Ha Long Bay has long astonished and delighted visitors with awesome scenic beauty photos can only barely capture. The otherworldly spikes and spires that surround the bay are formed of Karst limestone that has eroded in a distinct fashion over countless centuries.
(image via: TourismPICS)
Limestone slowly dissolves in the presence of mildly acidic rainwater and it erodes further thought the action of tree roots and plant growth cycles. In many respects, Ha Long Bay is a geologic “work in progress” where the dynamic forces of weathering and erosion my be observed and enjoyed… but for how long?
Iguazu Falls (Argentina, Paraguay)
(images via: BloggersBase and Tourism Central)
Iguazu Falls has got it all: height (200–269 ft or 60–82 meters), width (1.7 miles or 2.7 kilometers), rate of flow and the added attraction of being situated in lush, tropical surroundings. Nothing against North America’s famed Niagara Falls or Africa’s mighty Victoria Falls, but the hydrological spectacle that is Iguazu Falls takes the concept of waterfalls to a higher level entirely.
(image via: BloggersBase)
Situated on the border of Paraguay and Argentina in South America, Iguazu Falls marks the place where the Iguazu River pours over an erosion-resistant rock escarpment on the edge of the Paraná Plateau. Like Niagara Falls, the flow of water over the escarpment gradually wears away the underlying rock, thus pushing back the face of the falls incrementally over thousands of years.
Jeita Grotto (Lebanon)
Jeita Grotto is one of the world’s largest and best explored cave systems. Situated in Lebanon, Jeita Grotto is also one of the world’s oldest tourist attractions and its existence adds a note of peace and beauty to a historically war-torn region.
(image via: RitaKML)
Cave systems are, by nature, exceedingly sensitive to contamination from polluted groundwater, acid rain and even the humid breath of tourists. The Jeita Grotto has managed to survive thousands of years of human activity in the region without suffering significant harm to either its appearance or the many highly adapted creatures that have made it their home. Recognition as one of the world’s New 7 Wonders will surely bring more attention to the Jeita Grotto, something that can bring both positive and negative effects.
Jeju Island (South Korea)
Situated off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula, Jeju Island is South Korea’s largest island and boasts the country’s highest mountain, 6,400 ft (1,950 meter) Halla-san. The island’s volcanic origins are plainly visible, both through several spectacular craters and seaside formations of columnar basalt reminiscent of the famous Giant’s Causeway in reland.
(image via: Antique Alive)
Jeju Island has long been a popular vacation destination thanks not only to its unique scenic beauty, but also due to its warm temperatures and forgiving subtropical climate. The island’s relatively large size and rugged geography, especially toward the center where Halla-san is located, has helped preserve its exceptionally wide variety of ecologic habitats from extensive disturbance from human activity.
Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
At 19,341 feet, (5,895 m), Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest mountain and is a product of East Africa’s volatile Rift Valley geologic zone. The mountain’s solitary existence surrounded by mainly flat savannah plains only adds to its imposing visual majesty. Early European explorers who reported extensive ice caps on the mountain (actually a long-dormant volcano) were disbelieved at first, as the idea of glaciers only a few degree’s from the Earth’s equator was deemed to be impossible.
(image via: PNAS)
Kilimanjaro’s glaciers and summit snowfields do indeed exist, but they have been steadily shrinking for decades along with most of the planet’s other tropical glaciers. Should they vanish completely, the effect on millions of people in Tanzania and Kenya who depend on Kilimanjaro’s glacial runoff for drinking and farming is incalculable.
Komodo National Park (Indonesia)
Home to the world’s largest lizards, the Komodo Dragons, Komodo National Park in Indonesia also shelters a wide variety of island-adapted wildlife and unique plants that grow nowhere else. Tourism is permitted at the park and the sluggish, slow-moving “dragons” can easily be outrun if need be, but being bitten by one of the creatures is not a pleasant prospect: their saliva is loaded with pathogenic bacteria.
(images via: World Amazing Tourism)
Komodo Island is close to Flores Island, where fossil remains of the so-called “Hobbit” have been found. Thought to be an ancient offshoot of the human family tree, Homo Floriensis existed on Flores for hundreds of thousands of years and may have flourished on nearby islands as well. Imagine how formidable a Komodo Dragon would appear to a “hobbit”!
Set jewel-like into a shallow stretch of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are the closest thing to paradise on the planet! Rising mere meters above the surface of the sea, the Maldives suffered great damage from the 2004 Christmas Day Tsunami that swept across them virtually unopposed.
Although populated for thousands of years, the Maldive Islands are under new threat from Global Warming. As the seas rise, the low-lying islands will be increasingly vulnerable to the effects of storms – which themselves are reckoned to become more powerful as the world’s oceans heat up.
Masurian Lakes (Poland)
Numbering in the thousands, the Masurian Lakes are one of Poland’s most prized vacation destinations. It wasn’t always so: a series of fierce battles took place in the region between Germany and Russia in the early weeks of World War I. The roar of artillery is but a distant echo nowadays, however, replaced by the buzzing of an occasional passing motorboat.
(images via: Derek Emson/Panoramio)
Their location in the north of Poland means the Masurian Lakes offer seasonal variations to tourists and vacationers. Whether your skis are designed for snow or water, you’ll find the Masurian Lakes an ideal place to unwind and enjoy all the beauty nature has to offer.
Matterhorn (Switzerland, Italy)
Situated on the border between Austria and Italy, the strikingly beautiful Matterhorn is known as Monte Cervino to Italian-speakers. First climbed in 1865, the peak offers mountaineers an imposing challenge though at “just” 14,692 feet (4,478 meters) it’s far from the world’s highest mountain. Indeed, it’s estimated that as many as 500 hikers have lost their lives on the mountain over the years.
(images via: Beautiful Places to Visit)
Carved by glaciers into a steep, four-sided pyramid, the Matterhorn’s sheer slopes rarely accumulate much snow and its glaciers arise at lower altitudes than others in the Alps. The mountain’s relative isolation also gives rise to unusual cloud formations called “banner clouds” that are caused by condensation on the peak’s lee side.
Milford Sound (New Zealand)
Milford Sound is one of the highlights of Fiordland National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. This idyllic “tropical fjord” is surrounded by jagged rock faces as much as 3,900 feet (1,200 meters) high and is home to a wide variety of marine life including seals, penguins, whales and dolphins.
(images via: Travel Destination Info)
The area around Milford Sound was used as a location setting by New Zealand-born director for the epic Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Visitors will note Milford Sound’s two permanent waterfalls but will be surprised and delighted by the appearance of dozens more following an average-to-heavy rainstorm.
Mud Volcanoes (Azerbaijan)
Nearly 400 mud volcanoes comprising about half the world’s known total can be found in Azerbaijan, many within the boundaries of the Gobustan State Reserve. Mud volcanoes form when geothermal processes deep underground conspire to expel mixtures of fine silt and water onto the surface. An accumulation of mud volcanoes, such as can be found in Azerbaijan, can transform the landscape into something akin to the Voyager spacecraft’s observations of Jupiter’s tide-tortured moon Io.
(images via: Atlas Obscura)
Though mud volcanoes can be large (as much as 2,300 feet or 700 meters in height), they’re typically “cold” compared to more familiar volcanoes caused by upsurges of molten rock. With that said, many of Azerbaijan’s mud volcanoes are associated with the region’s copious oil and gas deposits, and have been known to burst into flame.
Puerto Princesa Underground River (Philippines)
Located near the northern coast of the Philippines’ far western province of Palawan, the Puerto Princesa Underground River stretches over 8 kilometers beneath the Saint Paul Mountain Range before flowing directly into the South China Sea. The river is fully navigable along nearly its entire length, allowing scientists and tourists to explore and enjoy this very rare natural phenomenon.
(images via: Barangay RP)
Like Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, the Puerto Princesa Underground River owes its creation and character to being situated in a Karst limestone formation. The action of flowing water over the eons has not only hollowed out the river’s channel but also has created a number of associated caves and caverns complete with stalagmites, stalactites and a diverse range of highly adapted cave life.
The Sundarbans (India, Bangladesh)
The Sundarbans is the world’s largest area of coastal mangrove forest. Constantly shaped and reshaped by seasonal monsoons, tides and frequent cyclonic storms, the Sundarbans is a rich yet precarious place for human habitation though animal life has adapted to its vicissitudes.
(images via: Mystic Musings)
The thick mangrove forests of the Sundarbans are an ideal habitat for the endangered Bengal Tiger. Approximately 500 tigers roam the Sundarbans, swimming from one island to another as needed and preying upon wild boars, monkeys, Chital deer and occasionally humans. It’s estimated that from 30 to 100 people are killed by tigers in the Sundarbans each year.
Table Mountain (South Africa)
South Africa’s preeminent landmark, Table Mountain, was first climbed (ironically) by a Portuguese sailor in the year 1503. The flat-topped mountain stands 3,558 feet (1,084.6 meters) tall and forms a dramatic backdrop to South Africa’s second-most populous city.
(images via: Hello Yebo)
Table Mountain is occasionally covered by clouds formed when moisture-laden winds are blown up and over the mountain’s sloping sides, condensing into the famous “table cloth”. The moisture helps support a surprisingly rich and diverse ecosystem, though the last leopards to live on the mountain were eradicated in the 1920s.
Formerly known as Ayers Rock (though the feature was officially dual-named in 1993), this massive, isolated and extensively eroded sandstone rock formation has emerged as one of Australia’s most well-known symbols. The name “Uluru” has no particular meaning, it’s merely the name by which the local Pitjantjatjara people have always referred to it.
(images via: Australian Geographic)
Uluru presents a variety of different “looks” from various angles on the ground and air, and depending on the time of day and the weather of the moment (or both) displays a surprising range of colors from vermillion red to glowing lavender. The rock stands 1,142 feet (348 meters) above the arid central Australian plains and, much like an iceberg, much of its bulk is hidden deep within the ground.
Mount Vesuvius (Italy)
Mount Vesuvius is the only active volcano situated on the mainland of continental Europe, though it hasn’t had a significant eruption since 1944. That doesn’t mean one isn’t coming: Vesuvius has erupted rather frequently over the past two thousand years; roughly 40 notable eruptions have been recorded since its most famous (or infamous) blast in the year 79 AD buried the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
(images via: Stuck In Customs)
Though the immediate area around Vesuvius’ 4,202 ft (1,281 meter) high peak sports some scrub vegetation and not much more, the surrounding area including metropolitan Naples, Italy, today supports a population of around 3 million making it the world’s most densely populated volcanic region.
Yushan, also known as Jade Mountain, is the tallest peak in the Yushan Range and can be found in Taiwan’s Yushan National Park in Taiwan. At 12,966 feet (3,952 meters), Yushan is the tallest mountain east of the Himalayas and is the fourth-highest mountain on an island (after Indonesia’s Puncak Jaya, Hawaii’s Mauna Kea and Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu).
(images via: Taiwan.gov)
Yushan has been called Taiwan’s “ark” due to the astounding level of biological diversity on and around the mountain. Protected by central Taiwan’s challenging topography and stratified into a large number of ascending biological zones, Yushan’s flora and fauna include some of the island’s rarest species and the peak’s environs are a bellweather for climate change. More prosaically perhaps, Yushan has been embraced by Taiwan’s people and government as a national symbol, appearing on the back of Taiwan’s NT$1,000 banknotes since the summer of 2005.
Though only 7 of the 28 semi-finalists will officially be designated “Wonders of Nature”, I think we can all agree that 7 is an arbitrary number and that all 28 semi-finalists – in fact, ANY natural place, phenomenon or feature – is deserving of the term “wonder” and well worth enjoying, appreciating and above all, protecting.