With maps, photographs, and environmental commentary, the National Geographic Visual Atlas is made for every person of the world: the environmentally minded, the travelers and globetrotters, the people who just want to learn more about the state of the world that we live on.
But, reading the Atlas this year has been a sobering experience as our globe and its ecosystems are more threatened than ever. It got me thinking about ways we could use the Atlas not only as a gorgeous coffee table book, but as a tool for helping planet Earth. Below are five of my favorite maps for this purpose:
Wilderness areas are regions that bear the least evidence of human influence. According to the Atlas, more than 1.8 million square miles of wilderness has been lost to human impact. I love this map because it not only shows us quiet and beautiful places to travel, but it also tells us which regions need our protection most.
Recommended spots: Canadian Rocky Mountains, Greater Blue Mountains in Australia, Manu National Park in Peru.
Land cover maps give us an idea of the vegetative cover at a given time. This map will show you where to find Evergreen Needleleaf or Broadleaf Forests, Woody Savannas, Permanent Wetlands, and Urban Build Up. What are you in the mood to experience? This map takes your image of a given continent and rearranges it, showing you that countries are more than what they are known for.
Recommended spots: Open Shrubland of Australia, Evergreen Forests of Africa, Expansive Grasslands of Russia
From the Atlas: “Limited funding compels the conservation community to be strategic and earmark the greatest amount of resources for the most outstanding and representative areas of biodiversity. World Wildlife Fund’s Global 200 is a first attempt to identify a set of ecoregions whose conservation would achieve the goal of saving a broad diversity of the Earth’s ecosystems.”
Recommended spot: Rather than traveling to these sacred areas, pick any of the 200+ ecoregions on this list and donate to one of their conservation partners.
While regions on the protected areas map also need preservation, they are areas that (mostly) allow human visitors. These are areas that protect an exotic landscape or offer valuable scientific, educational, or recreational opportunities. Levels of restriction vary from nature reserve to national parks to managed resource protection areas.
Recommended spot: Talampaya National Park in Argentina or Northeast Greenland National Park.
The more than 1,000 World Heritage Sites are listed by country, spanning eight pages. These landscapes, ecosystems, and monuments are “selected to represent the natural and cultural heritage of the world.” They are spots deemed important to the heritage of humanity as a whole.
Recommended spot: Any of these places! Check out the list!
As said in the introduction of the Visual Atlas, “We are reminded that each of us is a citizen of planet Earth, with a responsibility to preserve and protect its astonishing treasures.” For more ways to help, visit the World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, or the Nature Conservancy.
Thank you to National Geographic and TLC.