If there’s one thing we love more than a beautiful or unique landscape, it’s a good fight to save it from the brink of disaster. Industry, climate change and even tourism have taken their toll on some of the world’s natural treasures — but thanks to the hard work and dedication of passionate activists, these places are now protected areas where visitors can learn about the environment (and seek a little adventure too).

Here are some top destinations that were “saved from certain death”, according to Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2010.

Antarctica

It’s taken decades of hard work from Greenpeace and other NGOs to get the international community to see Antarctica as more than a land to be plundered for its natural resources. Now the continent’s unique environment is protected, thanks to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty which came into force in 1998. Mining has been banned, and any activity — including tourism — has to be evaluated for its environmental impact.

A trip to Antarctica is a unique learning experience, but it’s not a destination for casual tourists. Travellers should only venture there with an approved (and experienced) operator because the climate is brutal and medical and emergency services are scarce. (For more information, see the Antarctica Travel Report.)

Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, Canada

Located in British Columbia’s north along the Yukon and Alaska borders, this park is known for its glaciers, wildlife habitats, scenic rivers and the province’s tallest peak, Mt. Fairweather nestled among the mountains. Along with neighbouring parks, Kluane National Park and Reserves in the Yukon and Glacier Bay & Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks and Preserves in Alaska, it’s the largest protected area in the world.

However, it almost became the largest copper mine in the world. Thanks to the efforts of dedicated locals, the mine was defeated and the park was declared a protected area in 1993 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site a year later. Today, visitors enjoy the challenging trails for hiking and rivers for kayaking, but there are strict regulations in place to protect both people and nature. (See BCParks for details.)

Chesapeake Bay, USA

The name of this popular destination is sure to invoke images of yachts, sumptuous seafood, wildlife watching and fishing along the shorelines of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. It’s the largest estuary in the U.S., and home to over 2700 species of plant, 173 species of shellfish and 348 species of finfish.

However, in the 1970s it became evident that pollution from boats and local industry and runoff from the land was endangering the area’s fish populations — not to mention its economy. In 1983, the three states signed the Chesapeake Bay Agreement and started the long road to restoring and preserving the natural habitat. The Chesapeake Bay Program continues to protect the area, and to educate visitors and locals alike. (Visit BayDreaming.com for information.)

Gladden Spit, Belize

It’s a popular place to fish and to watch whale sharks, but both activities proved to be risky to the area. The damage prompted a grassroots organization, SEA Belize (aka “Friends of Nature”), to form and fight to protect the natural habitat, which was officially declared a protected area in 2001. Today, this local NGO shares the management of the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve with the government and manages whale shark tourism.

Diving, snorkelling and fishing expeditions are still popular, but they’re done under the watchful eye of the local authorities. (See Travel Belize and SEA Belize for more information.)

The Pantanal, Brazil

Still think the Amazon rainforests are the only endangered area in Brazil? This inland wetland — the world’s largest, in fact — is falling prey to poaching, overgrazing for the beef industry and biofuel agriculture which is draining the water. The Caiman Ecological Refuge project is out to change all that. It’s one of the now dozens of private nature refuges to protect local flora and fauna — including the caiman, a relative of the crocodile hunted for its skin.

The refuge is also home to eco-lodges and activities for tourists like canoeing, photographic safaris and horseback riding. You can even venture out after dark for some nocturnal wildlife watching. (For details, see, the Caiman Ecological Refuge website.)

Project Tiger, India

They were warned: in the 1930s, naturalist Jim Corbett tried to make people see that the tiger could become a threatened species. By the 1970s, his warning had come to fruition when only 1800 tigers were left, because of poaching. Prime Minister Indira Ghandi not only declared the tiger to be the national animal, but also launched the Project Tiger program after international criticism.

There are plenty of places to catch a glimpse of these iconic animals, including the Corbett Tiger Reserve — the first of dozens of reserves across the country. The reserve offers a variety of accommodations and activities for travellers. (For more information, visit the Corbett Tiger Reserve website.)

Northern Kenya

Why fight it? Peaceful cohabitation between humans and animals is the goal throughout much of this region, and harmony is part of the local cultures, including the Maasai of Il Ngwesi, Laikipiak Maasai of Lekurruki and the Samburu in the Matthews Range. These communities continue to overcome overgrazing and game hunting, and many have succeeded in increasing their animal populations.

Sustainable tourism is the rule for places like the Il Ngwesi Eco-Lodge, which aims to preserve both the surrounding environment and local Maasai culture. Of course, the stunning views can’t be ignored. (Visit www.ilngwesi.com for more information.)

Mabira Forest Reserve, Uganda

For three protestors, saving this reserve was a cause worth dying for. A couple of years ago, one third of the land was slated for clearing to make room for sugar cane crops to produce ethanol. Environmentalists fought against the move, and in the end nature won out over biofuels.

Located along the highway between Jinja and Kampala, it’s an ideal spot to stop for a day, according to the tourism board. However, to really experience the forest, it’s essential to explore the extensive trails on foot or bike (and yes, guides are available). Lonely Planet notes that there’s a community campsite nearby where you can rent mountain bikes and prepare food. (See the Uganda Tourism website for details.)

Franklin and Gordon Rivers, Australia

Aside from its famed natural beauty, it’s also the site of one of the biggest conservation wins in Australia. The battle to prevent a hydroelectric dam, which would flood the Franklin River, went all the way to the country’s Supreme Court. The Tasmanian Wilderness Society (TWS) and other conservation groups fought the scheme — including a massive blockade of dinghies — and established the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park today is known for its lush rainforests, twin mountain peaks, deep valleys, gorges and sparkling rivers. There are hikes and trails to suit any schedule, and cruise boats tour the area from nearby Strachan. (See the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service website for more information.)

Kakadu National Park, Australia

This park was the site of another battle around the turn of the 21st century — this time between the land’s aboriginal owners, the Mirrar, and the Jabiluka mine. An agreement had been arranged for mining to go ahead in the area, but there were fears that the Mirrar had been coerced. Demonstrations in 1998 ended in numerous arrests, but mining was finally defeated by 2003. Currently, the Mirrar have the legal right to decide what — if any — mining actions will take place in the future.

Aside from the controversy, this tropical park preserves culture as well as nature. There are wetlands and wildlife galore, but there are also two main sites for viewing rock art, part of the aboriginal heritage of the area. These artworks date back thousands — and often tens of thousands — of years. (See the Australian Government Parks and Reserves website.)

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Robert Cravens

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by:
Elizabeth Rogers