Travel Tip

Rising Water and Sinking Land Endanger the Existence of Cities

Major cities around the world are sinking due to rising sea levels. Now is the ideal time for eco-travellers to visit these locations and, through their responsible choices, contribute to the survival effort.
By Pamela Grant

Bob Marley once said, "The good times of today are the sad thoughts of tomorrow." He probably had something specific in mind when he said it, but the words describe what many people will feel in the future as they look back and remember the good times they had when visiting cities that are rapidly being consumed by rising oceans or are sinking into the seas.

Whether manmade or a natural occurrence, climate change is impacting the oceans. Sea levels are rising at unprecedented rates in modern history, and torrential rainfall and massive flooding aggravate the problem. Within a decade or two, and certainly by 2050, some of the most iconic cities in the world will learn if they have properly prepared to avoid destruction by water.

Eco-travellers can play a big role in helping these cities survive by taking the opportunity to visit some of the ones most likely to disappear in their lifetime.

Sinking or Flooding?
Two occurrences can impact the survival of some cities. One is rising sea levels causing flooding. Another is the sinking of land (called subsidence) due to factors like over-extraction of water, compaction of soft sediments, and movement of the tectonic plates.

The Hampton Roads, Va., metropolitan area has one of the highest subsidence rates on the U.S. east coast and is also subjected to rising sea levels. Whether sinking or flooding, the impact is the same. Water supplies are contaminated, property is destroyed, and the future is uncertain.

Some of the world's most iconic cities are faced with destruction unless they find a way to keep the sea out and slow the rate of rising waters. Venice, Italy, is one such city. The "City of Water" now has too much water, as the famous canals and lagoons are overflowing, impacting places like the Piazza San Marco. Visitors and residents now walk through water on the Piazza during every high tide. The daily flooding is due to subsidence and the rising Adriatic Sea, and the situation is aggravated by groundwater extraction. The city has already sunk 5 inches over the last 100 years, and it could sink completely in the next 100 years.

Jakarta, Indonesia, is sinking and flooding also. In fact, it is the fastest sinking big city in the world. Subsidence is due to the draining of underground water and the rising of the Java Sea. The combination has caused places like Muara Baru to sink 14 feet. Sections of the city are sinking approximately 4 inches every year. It is estimated that northern Jakarta will disappear within a decade at the current rate. One of the most popular and beautiful places is Thousand Islands. Some of the islands making up the Thousand Islands are likely to be lost to the sea by 2020 due to rising sea levels and erosion largely caused by the destruction of protective coral reefs.

Threatening Paradise
The island nation Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, is often called paradise, but it is a paradise that is being threatened by rising sea levels. The highest point among the 1,200 coral islands and 26 atolls is a mere 8 feet above sea level. Resorts like the Mirihi Island Resort offer eco-travellers an escape from hectic modern living while also delivering luxury service and a host of outdoor activities, like canoeing and swimming in crystal clear blue waters. The palm trees, white sand beaches and resort are facing the same challenge. If the oceans continue to rise, many of the islands, including Mirihi, will succumb within decades. There is a sea wall on the eastern side of the island, but the beaches must be re-sanded frequently or the water would be lapping at porches.

Miami is an exciting, glittering city and a major tourist destination. The city has a problem. The ground it is built on is mostly limestone which is filled with holes. As the sea rises, water floods coastal areas and fills the limestone holes. That means water is bubbling up through the ground and assaulting beaches at the same time. Geologists studying the problem are in general agreement that this city is likely to be either under water, or much smaller than it is today, by the end of the 21st century.

Right now, the effort to save Miami includes building pump stations that treat floodwaters and return the water to Biscayne Bay. On Miami Beach, roads are already being raised and buildings are being built higher. The ecosystems like the Everglades are critical to keeping Miami safe from destruction. The swamp offers a buffer against intensifying storms. Popular places like Vizcaya, a luxurious estate built a hundred years ago, are showing the effects of the rising sea. The estate has several structures that were built in Biscayne Bay with the house located on shore. Several of the bay structures are already submerged.

Eco-Travelling Takes on New Importance
Eco-travellers can play a critical role in the effort to save some of the most beautiful spots on earth.

Many parks, museums, and cultural experiences use part of the fees collected for preservation activities, either directly through their site management activities or by remitting money to state or local environmental agencies. Staying in green hotels and resorts assists the environmental protection effort by doing things like recycling water which reduces the need for groundwater.

Environmentalists, geologists, engineers, and others looking for solutions to rising sea levels and sinking ground are challenged with finding practical approaches for the long-term. It takes billions of dollars and years to design and build structures that are able to hold back the encroaching seas. However, they all do agree on one point: The sum of small efforts to reduce human environmental footprints does increase the likelihood that cities and cultural and environmental gems will endure much longer than a few more decades.

Eco-tourists can have good times today visiting these great cities and locations, and hopefully they will not have sad thoughts in the future because their favorite destinations have disappeared into the ocean.