7 Endangered UNESCO World Heritage Sites to See Before They're Gone

So what does it take to make it on the revered UNESCO World Heritage Site list? Aside from having to "be of outstanding universal value," a site must meet at least one of 10 additional criteria, ranging from representing a masterpiece of human creative genius, to containing superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance, to being outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history. It's not an easy feat to get inscribed to this list, which is why its all the more upsetting when these precious sites become threatened and added to the "UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger" list. 

Unfortunately, most of the threats are from humans, caused by poorly managed mass tourism and growing development. However, all is not lost. Several sites, such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, The Giza Pyramids in Egypt, and the Old City of Dubrovnik in Croatia, have all spent time on the endangered list, but then were removed thanks to the action and success of preservation efforts. 

Here's our list of 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger (along with the year they were added) that we feel you should move to the top of your bucket list ASAP because, while we have our fingers crossed, it just might be now or never. Plus, as travelers, our biggest contribution to the preservation of these sites is by raising awareness and sharing our experience of them with others. 

1. Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania (2014)

Photo by George via Flickr
Photo by George via Flickr

Selous Game Reserve covers nearly 20,000 square miles of various vegetation, including grasslands, woodlands, swamp, and forests, and one of Africa's largest protected areas. It's filled with Africa's most famous animals -- with a "globally significant" number of Africa elephants, black rhino, and wild dog. Luckily, it's also one of the spots on the planet that is without much human interference, but that's not enough to save it from the UNESCO's danger list. Though it's not clear exactly why it's considered to be threatened, you don't have to tell us twice. Our bags are packed and we'd love for you to join us, because it's hard to beat seeing these magnificent animals in the flesh. 

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2. Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City, England (2012)

Photo by Radarsmum67 via Flickr
Photo by Radarsmum67 via Flickr

Are you as surprised as we are that Liverpool is even on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list -- let alone listed as an endangered site on the list? And no, it's not because of the Beatles. Liverpool makes the list thanks to the contributions of its trading port. Nestled on the water, Liverpool port is home of the doomed Titanic, but it's also the birthplace of several advancements in port technology and systems, as well as home to several historical buildings. Unfortunately, the site is under threat because of a lack of both knowledge about the site's significance and management for new buildings. 

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3. Everglades National Park, U.S. (2010)

Photo by Miguel Vieira via Flickr
Photo by Miguel Vieira via Flickr

Of the 23 stateside sites listed as official UNESCO World Heritage Sites, only Everglades National Park is considered to be under threat. Sadly, its 2010 addition to the UNESCO's danger list wasn't a first-time appearance. The Everglades held a spot on this very same list from 1993 to 2007, and was put back on at the urging of the State of Florida. State reps say the Everglades' ecosystem continues to deteriorate due to pollution, water supply, mismanagement, and urban and agricultural growth in the area. This massive swampland oozing off the southern tip of Florida is North America's largest sub-tropical reserve and is home to myriad reptiles, fish, birds, and plants. The best way for us to help is to go visit. Pack a bag and take a trip to show how important and beloved this natural national treasure is. 

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4. Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, Belize (2009)

Photo by dronepicr via Flickr
Photo by dronepicr via Flickr

Did you know that the Belize Barrier Reef makes up one-third of the western hemisphere's largest coral reef? In fact, it's part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest reef system in the entire world. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is broken up into seven parts, each highlighting a separate stage of evolutionary reef development. It's also home to several endangered marine species like turtles, manatees, and crocodiles. However, this delicate ecosystem is under threat from development and destruction of its protective mangroves. If this doesn't light a fire under your swimsuit and snorkel, consider that Belize is much closer and much cheaper than a trip halfway around the world to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. 

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5. Abu Mena, Egypt (2001)

Photo by Institute for Study of the Ancient World via Flickr
Photo by Institute for Study of the Ancient World via Flickr

Abu Mena may not be as well known as some of Egypt's other ancient structures and sites, but this crumbling ancient city built over the tomb of Menas of Alexandria in A.D. 296 is under serious threat. Listed in 2001 because of the rising water levels in the area, Abu Mena's mostly clay foundations are softening, causing the collapse of several structures and the opening of large underground cavities. In fact, some of the most-threatened buildings have already been reinforced with the help of sand-filled bases. While all of this information sinks in, we'll move that trip to Egypt up a few spots on your ever-growing bucket list. 

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6. Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls, Israel (1982)

Photo by Israel_photo_gallery via Flickr
Photo by Israel_photo_gallery via Flickr

According to UNESCO, which added this biblically ancient city to its endangered list all the way back in 1982, Old Jerusalem and its gorgeous stone walls are under threat from a diminishing level of protection, possible negative effects from modern city planning, a lack of conservation policy, and a declining belief of the site's cultural significance. The latter is particularly hard to swallow, considering it's a religiously significant spot for three of the world's largest religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Whatever you believe (or don't), it's still pretty cool that a place mentioned in the Bible still stands tall -- at least for now. 

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7. Macchu Picchu, Peru (2016?)

Photo by einalem via Flickr
Photo by einalem via Flickr

Peru's Macchu Picchu isn't officially on the list of UNESCO Heritage Sites in Danger -- yet. Unfortunately, we've all been hearing for years about how this magnificent "lost" ancient Incan city is barely surviving under the constant traipsing, climbing, and just mere presence of its over one million annual visitors. During high season, the site wearily welcomes around 5,000 curious tourists a day. Suffice to say, we are crossing our fingers for this important relic to stay off the danger list. Though tourism is the problem, you can visit respectfully as long as you use a responsible and eco-friendly tour operator who has the preservation of this ancient city at the forefront. 

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