The New7Wonders Foundation’s long-running campaign to select (with your help) the world’s seven most outstanding natural wonders officially ended on November 11th, 2011. The highly-publicized process was hugely successful in raising awareness of our planet’s natural beauty and in that respect, everyone’s a winner.
The Amazon Rainforest first took root, so to speak, around 55 million years ago. Ironically perhaps, its creation was sparked by a period of global cooling that resulted in a moister climate in north-central South America. Known colloquially as “the lungs of the Earth”, the Amazon Rainforest functions both as a critical carbon sink and an oxygen supplier whose beneficial effects are distributed worldwide.
Although its current area of 2,123,562 square miles (5,500,000 km2) does not mark the rainforest’s maximum historical extent, “Amazonia” is still the planet’s largest tropical rainforest and acts an irreplaceable biological reservoir for botanical and zoological diversity.
At the present time, approximately 668,000 square miles (1,730,000 km2) of the Amazon Rainforest – nearly one third – is protected to some degree by official conservation measures. The region’s unique pink river dolphins, brilliantly colored “poison dart” frogs and forest-dwelling Amerindian tribes never in contact with the modern world will be happy to hear that.
Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)
Ha Long Bay means “descending dragon bay” in Vietnamese, and this picture postcard perfect place has charms that could soothe even the most ornery dragon. The bay boasts nearly 2,000 islands, only half of which have been named.
The bay’s otherworldly beauty is a testament to the power of geological processes acting over time… say, 20 million years since the area’s half-billion-year-old Karst limestone began weathering away under the onslaught of tropical storms and salt-water spray.
Karst limestone formations around the world often feature extensive subterranean cave systems and Ha Long Bay is no different. As such, the area shows another dimension of scenic beauty though the more popular caves have suffered ill effects from human activity associated with increased tourism.
Iguazu Falls (Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay)
Iguazu Falls has been impressing onlookers for a long time: the name “iguazu” is derived from the native Guarani words for “water” and “big”. Unlike other large waterfalls such as Niagara Falls and Victoria Falls, the irregular basalt plateau over which the Iguazu River plummets divides the flow into as many as 275 separate cataracts.
Visitors to Iguazu Falls are advised to take the Moonlight Tour, though the ethereal after-hours magnificence of the roaring falls is best taken in under a full moon and clear skies. The sight may seem somewhat muted but the sound? Not a bit!
The two nations that share access to Iguazu Falls (Argentina and Brazil) recognized long ago that the falls and their associated ecosystem were both magnificent and fragile. Brazil created Iguaçu National Park in 1939 while Argentina’s Iguazú National Park first opened in 1934.
Jeju Island (South Korea)
Jeju Island is the largest and most southerly island in South Korea. The 175 mile (282 km) wide island was formed 2 million years ago in a series of massive volcanic eruptions and the island owes much of its unique and striking scenery to its fiery origins.
South Korea’s tallest mountain, the 6,400 ft (1,950 m) tall extinct volcano Halla-san, rises from the island’s geographical center. The contrast between Halla-san’s alpine scenery and the palm-fringed tropical beaches at the isle’s fringes results in a wide range of ecosystems.
Known as the “Island of the Gods”, Jeju Island is South Korea’s top honeymoon destination. The island’s relatively small residential population and the unsuitability of much of the rocky, lava-covered land for farming have helped preserve Jeju Island’s primordial character.
Komodo National Park (Indonesia)
Founded in 1980, Indonesia’s Komodo National Park consists of the three large islands of Komodo, Padar and Rincah, 26 smaller surrounding islands, and a short section of western Flores Island’s coast.
The park as a whole comprises nearly 670 square miles (1,733 km²) of combined land and sea. The park was created specifically to protect the world’s largest lizard, the Komodo Dragon, but its purview has been expanded to cover a number of unique indigenous terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
Komodo Dragons are a rare example of “island gigantism” in which one species gradually evolves to fill an ecological niche, in this case one left empty by the lack of large carnivorous predators. Certainly qualifying as giants among lizards, Komodo Dragons can grow up to 9.8 feet (3 meters) in length and can weigh up to 150 lbs (70 kg). Fun facts about Komodo Dragons touch on their reddish saliva and white excrement, the latter a consequence of the creatures’ inability to digest the calcium in their prey’s bones.
Puerto Princesa Underground River (Philippines)
The Puerto Princesa Underground (or Subterranean) River was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site on December 4th, 1999, and it’s likely the attention the site subsequently received did much to spur much-needed preservation and protection measures.
Stretching 5.1 miles (8.2 km) from its mountainous headwaters to the South China Sea, the Puerto Princesa Underground River system encompasses a vast range of ecological habitats supporting an intricate web of rare and often interdependent plant and animal species.
Puerto Princesa City is the capitol of the Philippines’ semi-isolated, rugged and relatively undeveloped island province of Palawan, and the Puerto Princesa Underground River is situated roughly 30 miles (50 km) north of the city center. This advantageous location is a boon for the limited number of tourists who have and will visit the Puerto Princesa Underground River.
Table Mountain (South Africa)
The massive, flat-topped sandstone peak called Table Mountain stands 3,558 feet (1,084.6 meters) tall and looms over Cape Town, South Africa. As the centerpiece of Table Mountain National Park, the long-time landmark attracts visitors from around the world and facilitates their movement via the convenient Table Mountain Cableway.
Is that Reverend Desmond Tutu up on Table Mountain looking all messianic-like? Why yes, yes it is! Was the revered Reverend calling upon The Big Guy “upstairs” to help boost Table Mountain into the New 7 Wonders of Nature’s final seven? We can let the results speak for themselves.
Table Mountain’s indigenous ecosystem is very different today from what it was when Dutch colonists first founded Cape Town in 1652. Large carnivores such as lions and leopards have been eradicated as have most of the larger herbivores. SANParks has been vigilant (some say TOO vigilant) in rooting out invasive plants and animals from Table Mountain, including a large population of goat-like Himalayan Tahr which descended from a breeding pair of zoo escapees back in 1935.
The seven winning wonders described above and listed in alphabetical order are stated to be “provisional” based upon the first vote count conducted by the New7Wonders Foundation and announced by Bernard Weber, project founder, on 11/11/11. Stay tuned for official confirmation of the seven winning sites, due to be announced early in 2012 at the Official Inauguration ceremony!