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Climate change is impacting your favorite vacation destinations. Here’s how.

Picture your favorite vacation spots. Now imagine your favorite ski resort with no snow, a coral reef barren of fish, or a tropical island without any beaches.

From the Great Barrier Reef to the Alps, many of the world’s most iconic destinations are in danger from climate change. Warming oceans are already bleaching coral reefs and as sea levels rise, entire islands could disappear underwater. A changing climate also bears bad news for ski destinations as experts predict that alpine resorts could lose up to 70% of their snow cover by the end of the century.

Read on to discover how climate change is impacting the places you visit and what the implications might be for your favorite vacation destinations.

Islands and Coastal Destinations

It’s the middle of winter, you’ve had a stressful month at work, and all you want to do is escape reality. What better place to catch up on some much-needed rest and relaxation than a tropical island destination? 

With their sunny skies and white sandy beaches, islands and coastal locations are among the planet’s most popular destinations. In fact, 80% of all tourism takes place in coastal areas. Unfortunately, these destinations are also some of the most vulnerable to climate change.

Disappearing Beaches and Coastlines

As global temperatures warm, this causes seawater to expand and ice sheets to melt. As a result, global sea levels are rising at an increasing rate. These rising sea levels, along with climate-induced extreme weather events are threatening some of the world’s most beautiful coastlines.

As sea levels rise and storms cause waves to crash along the shore, beaches are eroding and even disappearing. Some destinations, such as St. Lucia and Mexico, are already attempting to rebuild beaches lost to erosion. On top of this, climate change is worsening the impacts of hurricanes, leading to more intense storm surges and coastal flooding. 

Beachside resorts, restaurants, roads, airports, and ports are also in harm’s way. In the Caribbean, a high percentage of tourism infrastructure is just above sea level. If sea levels rise by 1 meter, approximately 49–60% of the region’s resorts and 21 airports would be damaged or destroyed. According to a recent IPCC report, this amount of sea level rise could be a reality by the end of this century in a worst case scenario.

Other low-lying island nations such as Tuvalu and the Maldives are facing an even worse fate. As sea levels continue to rise, these destinations could be completely swallowed by the ocean. 

Dying Coral Reefs

Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef (March 2016 / May 2016) Photo: The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey

What tropical vacation would be complete without a little snorkeling or diving? Sadly, these underwater experiences might never be the same. The future of our planet’s coral reefs is at stake – largely due to climate change. As water temperatures increase, more corals are bleaching and losing their vibrant colors. In addition to losing natural beauty, these corals become more susceptible to disease and can even die. 

Globally, severe coral bleaching is now happening five times more frequently than in previous decades. The Great Barrier Reef is the poster child for climate change. Over the last few years, climate change has completely transformed the reef. Since 2016, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced two massive bleaching events which killed about half of the shallow corals on the reef. 

The loss of coral reefs has a ripple effect across entire marine ecosystems. Though they cover less than 1% of the ocean floor, reefs are a valuable habitat for more than a quarter of the world’s marine species. Without coral reefs, fish and other marine animals will struggle to survive and there won’t be much left for divers or snorkelers to see. 

Water Shortages

Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will also exacerbate water supply issues in destinations that are already prone to drought. Due to their limited freshwater resources, small islands are especially vulnerable to water scarcity challenges and are already being affected. 

In many Caribbean islands, water shortages are now a way of life. In fact, the Caribbean nations of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and St. Kitts and Nevis, all have less than 600 cubic meters of freshwater resources per capita.  To put this into perspective, annual freshwater use in the United States is more than 1,500 cubic meters per capita. As climate change continues, these freshwater supplies will only become more precious. This could lead to conflict with local communities as the tourism industry consumes a substantial amount of this water. 

Snow and Alpine Destinations

While tropical destinations call to many travelers, the sun, sea and sand isn’t for everyone. Many adventurers would choose white snowy slopes over white sandy beaches any day. In fact, the global ski industry generates up to $70 billion every year. But with climate change impacts on the rise this might not be the case for long. 

It’s a little hard to ski down a mountain that doesn’t have snow. As climate change continues it will only get more difficult to find snow-covered slopes. As temperatures are rising, snowfall in the mountains is decreasing. As a result, winter sports seasons will get shorter and ski resorts may become relics of the past. Many ski resorts already rely on artificial snow-making machines to supplement their natural snow. 

On top of this, alpine glaciers are rapidly shrinking or disappearing completely, altering the landscape of iconic ski resorts such as the Alps. A whopping 44% of skiers flock to the Alps, but scientists predict that most of the ice there will be gone by the end of the century. As the ice melts in these destinations, alpine villages, ski resorts, and visitors will face increased danger from rockslides, avalanches, and landslides. 

Down in the Southern Hemisphere, the Patagonian Ice Fields are also dwindling away. Earlier this year, two huge icebergs broke off of Grey Glacier – a spectacular landscape that wows visitors to the ever popular Torres del Paine National Park. However, this 270 kilometer ice mass is thinning at double the rate of a decade ago. If the planet continues to warm, it’s only a matter of time before this stunning natural wonder and other renowned Patagonian glaciers are gone for good.

Travel to the ends of the earth will also be affected as the ice sheets at the poles continue to melt. Though mighty, these enormous ice masses are not immune to climate change. Expeditions to the Antarctic just won’t be the same without colossal ice formations and penguins waddling across snow-covered landscapes!

Forests and Wildlife Tourism

Hikers and ecotourists will also notice changes resulting from climate change. Insect infestations, along with increased and intensified wildfires threaten to ravage forest areas. In addition, smoke from fires can ruin scenic views and make it difficult (and dangerous) to engage in recreational activities.

Similarly, the biodiversity of natural tourism areas may also change. As climate change happens too fast for species to adapt, certain species may migrate to cooler climates. Species that aren’t able to adapt, such as walruses and polar bears, may go extinct. 

What Does This Mean for Me?

Understanding how climate change is impacting your favorite places can be disheartening, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There are many ways that you can take action to reduce your own climate change impact and protect our treasured destinations.

Hopefully this knowledge inspires you to travel smarter and greener! Stay tuned for more tips coming your way soon on what you can do to transform your impact! In the meanwhile, you can calculate and offset your carbon footprint using our online calculator. Or consider becoming a member of Sustainable Travel International to receive useful resources that will help you understand your impact and become a more responsible traveler! 

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