The good shepherds

This year Japan suffered its worst ever whaling season. The reason? Battle-hardened conservationists.

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They might be modern-day pirates, as one US court damningly ruled, but their motive is nothing like gold and silver. Sea Shepherd, a non-profit marine wildlife conservation organisation, is renowned for using direct and aggressive tactics to prevent ocean killings on the high seas. Diplomacy is thrown overboard. Whatever needs to be done, will be done.

The Japanese government is well aware. It is among the few countries that hunt and kill whales. The practice was banned in the 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling, but Japan claims it uses whales for scientific purposes. That exploits a loophole in the law...

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Wild wonders

The Canadian Rockies make a perfect playground for adrenaline-seeking adventurers. 

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By now, the story is well known. In 1883 three construction workers toiling away on the Canadian Pacific Railway stumbled across a cave in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. They encountered a series of hot springs. After various disputes, it was decided the area be protected. In 1885 Banff National Park was created; the very first in Canada.

The protected area that is the Rocky Mountains – or the ‘Canadian Rockies’ – evolved from there. Numerous national parks later emerged to give this vast terrain the protection it deserves...

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The flooded forest

A giant landslide in 1911 submerged a series of trees in Kazakhstan. But below the surface, the forest is still intact.

Maxim-Petrichuk(1)

They look like the masts of ghost ships, relegated to the lake floor since hundreds of years ago, abandoned in some deserted valley. They are the dead trunks of trees flooded with water around a century ago. The Kaindy Lake is relatively unknown among tourists, but many adventurers flock here; not because of the sights on show above the surface, but because of what lies beneath it.

In 1911, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake shook south-eastern Kazakhstan. It became known as the Kebin earthquake. Nearly 800 brick buildings were erased. People died. Fractures and large landslides were observed across an area spanning 200 kilometres (125 miles) in length...

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Land of the giants

The world’s largest trees have survived for more than 3,000 years, but their futures lie in human hands.  

Pierdelune

They are the giants of nature; the skyscrapers of Mother Earth. In Sequoia National Park, some 8,000 giant sequoias rise firmly from the forest floor and branch out at a height of up to 80 metres. Only by placing humans next to their roots can one really fathom their size. The species is not the world’s tallest tree type. Nor is it the widest or oldest. But by trunk volume, it is the biggest.

The giant sequoia grows fast and lives long. As they expand, they produce an estimated 40 cubic feet of wood per year. Most are believed to be between 1,800 and 2,700 years old...

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Avant-garden

The futuristic Gardens by the Bay have become one of Singapore’s major attractions since opening one year ago.

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It looks like a scene from a science fiction movie. Stroll down Singapore’s Marina Bay and you will see 50-metre-tall trees branch out across blossoming gardens. Two air-conditioned conservatories lurk by the seaside, with glasshouse exteriors akin to giant snail shells. Inside one of them, a 35-metre-high mountain releases the world’s largest indoor waterfall. Welcome to the Gardens by the Bay.

The high-tech facility spearheads a strategy by the National Parks Board to increase the flora and green spaces in Singapore. The wider target is to boost the quality of life. In January 2006 they launched a designer competition for the complex...

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Green city guide: Barcelona

The cultural heavyweight of Catalonia offers everything a tourist could want, but what are its green credentials?

Luciano-Mortula

You’ll find it all in Barcelona. The Catalan capital has a vibrant cultural scene, a huge beach, excellent food (the tapas are particularly renowned), world-class architecture and a rich history. There is sport too: the city is home to FC Barcelona, the famous football club, while the 1992 Summer Olympics site can still be visited. Around the city, much of Barcelona’s identity is shaped by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. His famous works include Park Güell, Casa Milá, Casa Battló. And of course La Sagrada Família – a masterpiece of a church, which is still under construction.

But although the past has given Barcelona many gifts, the city is looking towards the futur...

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The place to be

The Swiss village of Gstaad is a luxurious getaway for celebrities and Hollywood A-listers.

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In the 1960s, TIME magazine summed it up when describing it as “the place to be”. Gstaad, a small settlement in the municipality of Saanen, south-western Switzerland, had already attracted personalities such as Grace Kelly and Roger Moore. Others included David Niven, Peter Sellers and Elizabeth Taylor. They fled to the Alps to escape busy lives.

Half a century later, little has changed. The village’s high-life society today includes people such as Roman Polanski, Mick Flick and Bernie Ecclestone. One writer called it ‘Monaco with snow’ which is entirely appropriate...

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The polyglot

By the time he turned 21, Benny Lewis, from Ireland, knew only English. In his intellectual armoury was a degree in electronic engineering. After graduation, in 2003, he moved to Spain. Some 10 years later, all spent on the road, Lewis is fluent in eight languages. He knows everything from Spanish and French to Mandarin, Irish, Esperanto and American Sign Language. Hundreds of thousands of keen learners read his website each month, enabling Lewis to make a full-time living off language projects. Is there a secret to success with languages? Yes there is.

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1. At 21 you knew only English. What made you decide you wanted to learn languages? 

I had moved to Spain and was getting frustrated with the limitations that only speaking English gave me, since I could only make friends with rich Spani...

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In the shadows

Beside the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort stood as an impregnable bastion under the Mughal Empire.

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In 1565, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, the third ruler of the Mughal Empire – which controlled large parts of India in the 16th and 17th centuries – built the main constructions of the Agra Fort. He erected walls around what became a fortified city. The provincial city of Agra became the empire’s capital.

In 1627, Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, became the empire’s fifth ruler. Years later he moved to Delhi. He constructed the Taj Mahal, the famous white marble monument, in memory of his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal. He built it only a few kilometres from the Agra Fort.

Jahan fell ill in 1657 and resigned his throne to Dara Shikoh, the eldest of his four sons. His brothers were jealous...

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Keeping it clean

The White Desert is the jewel in Egypt’s tourism crown, but relies on volunteers to stay free of rubbish.

Enrico-Montanari

Weird mushroomy rock pinnacles dominate the landscape of the White Desert – one of Egypt’s most popular destinations. For some 20 kilometres (12.5 miles), freestanding white chalk blocks line up like sculptures in a city park. Most visitors become transfixed by their size and alien beauty – until their gaze lowers towards the ground where paper and plastic bags lie buried.

The White Desert is situated in the Western Desert, which covers two-thirds of Egypt. More specifically, it is based in the Farafra Depression. The closest town is Farafra, some 45 kilometres (30 miles) away. It borders to the Bahariya Oasis in the north.

It was formed when a large rock plateau began to bre...

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‘The land God made in anger’

The merciless coastline of northern Namibia has been the ill-wanted deathbed of many aquatic creatures.

Valdecasas

If dropped off by the Skeleton Coast – and if the name hasn’t scared you off already – the sight would resemble that of a coastal graveyard. Across the 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the Ugab River to the Angolan highlands, the bones of animals lie strewn in the soft sand, like a finished plate of barbeque ribs. They are accompanied by hundreds of rusty shipwrecks. Each has its own story. “There are mostly whale bones and a lot of seal bones,” says Volker Jahnke, of Desert Magic Tours Namibia. “Every now and then you also find human skeletons.”

The Skeleton Coast is the Bermuda Triangle of the South Atlantic Ocean, but without the myth...

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The Twelve Apostles

On Victoria’s southern coast, giant limestone stacks have been sculptured by waves. Nobody knows for how long they will survive.

Alberto-Loyo

On 15 January 1990, a young couple strolled onto a famous rock formation on the Australian coast along the Great Ocean Road. The formation was named ‘London Bridge’ because of its two natural arches that branched out from the mainland. Suddenly the inner arch crashed into the sea. The couple were trapped on an islet. They had to be rescued by a helicopter.

The episode was typical of the coastline stretch known as Port Campbell, situated some 230 kilometres (140 miles) south-west of Melbourne. For thousands of years, powerful waves have pounded against the coastline and gradually torn away the rock. Spectacular sculptures have been left behind...

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Food for thought

The Slow Food organisation aims to protect local food culture, and has grown into an influential international movement.

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It all started in Bra, a town in north-western Italy of about 30,000 people. In 1986, Carlo Petrini founded ‘Slow Food’ as a wine and food association. The purpose was to enjoy quality cookery as part of a slow, leisurely lifestyle. It countered the expanding fast-food industry. It also fought the disappearance of local food traditions and a rising apathy towards nutrition.

The association soon expanded into a movement. The first international congress was held in Venice in 1990. The network came to include humanitarian and environmental issues such as fair prices, animal welfare and production methods...

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‘We still have time’

The natural world is beset with threats such as climate change and wildlife poaching, but it can be saved, says WWF chief executive Carter Roberts.

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Protecting the natural world was never going to be easy. In Africa, wildlife poachers are using increasingly sophisticated technology to hunt rhino horns and ivory; in Asia and elsewhere, tigers, gorillas, giant pandas and other species near extinction; across the world, business leaders and politicians are turning a blind eye to climate change.

For environmentalists, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) should need no introduction. The influential conservation organisation works in 100 countries and is supported by almost 5 million people...

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High and dry

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the world’s most arid place, where some areas have never seen rain.

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In the mid-1990s, NASA set up an automatic environmental station in the most arid part of the Atacama Desert. Over five years, it recorded a miniscule two millimetres of rain that fell close to midnight. It was so slight that nearby weather stations did not even register it.

Welcome to the driest place on earth. The Atacama Desert, located in the north of Chile, is so arid that some adults here might never have seen rain. It covers 965 kilometres (600 miles) from Bolivia’s southern border, west of the Andes Mountains, and down towards central Chile. Some riverbeds have been dry for 120,000 years. The annual rainfall here is about 0,004 inches...

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A new direction

EU parliamentarians have voted to limit food crop-based biofuels. That could be good news for developing countries.

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Biofuels were always supposed to be a good thing. But not all kinds. In July, the European Union’s (EU) Environment Committee voted to cap the volume of food crop-based biofuels. It said no more than 5.5 per cent of member nations’ transport fuels must originate from food crops. With the current output at just beneath five per cent, the move dramatically limits the £14billion industry. The decision will pass for a full European Parliament session in mid-September.

There is widespread debate behind the decision. Green campaigners have said the EU’s biofuel policy negatively impacts developing countries...

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Living lakes

In Croatia’s Dinaric Alps, spellbinding lakes have gradually formed over thousands of years. Still today, their appearance is in constant evolvement.

Artur-Bogacki

‘Paradise on earth’ may be an inflated phrase, but there are some places that do it justice. One such destination is Plitvice Lakes National Park, where 16 interconnected lakes have been carved out by nature herself. There are heavenly waterfalls, pristine forests and quiet, crystal-clear rivers. The lakes’ colours change from azure to green, grey and blue. Wooden trails follow the waterstream. It is an idyllic place to be.

The Croatian government safeguarded its natural pearl already in 1949, dedicating an extensive area around the lakes as national park. UNESCO followed suit in 1979...

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Breaking the ice

In southern Argentina, the Perito Moreno glacier fluctuates so freely that it indirectly submerges land areas. When it will strike next, nobody knows.

Joshua-Raif

Spread out across a plain in Patagonia, as if with a butter knife, the Perito Moreno glacier is an intriguing subject ­for tourists as well as glacial geologists. For tourists because of its undeniable beauty, characteristic shape and accessibility; for scientists because of its free-ranging movement and its effect on the surrounding geology.

The glacier, covering 259 square kilometres (100 square miles), lies in the Los Glaciares National Park; a UNESCO-listed protection area located in south-western Argentina, near the border of Chile...

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Celebration of the lizard

The world’s largest lizard is a shrewd predator that will stop at nothing for its next meal. Meet the Komodo dragon.

Tatiana-Morozova

Dinosaurs may have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years, but reptiles remain that carry their legacy. That, at least, is the impression one gets of the Komodo dragon, a three-metre-long killing machine whose favourite preys include pigs, deer and large water buffalos. Even humans are unlikely to escape its wrath: in February, two people were attacked by a giant dragon that had somehow wandered into their office. They ended up in hospital.

The home of this sinister-looking lizard is a group of volcanic islands in the centre of the Indonesian archipelago. The government created a national park here in 1980 to protect it, with UNESCO adding its endorsement in 1991...

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Green city guide: Freiburg

Freiburg is among Europe’s most sustainable cities, having invested heavily in public transport, solar power and green spaces.

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Much attention is given to large cities striving to reach green goals, such as Sydney and London. Less, however, is said about smaller, cosier places. One example that deserves attention is Freiburg: a charming, idyllic city in south-western Germany, and one of the country’s famous old university towns. Since the 1970s it has followed a green agenda whose cornerstones have included public transport investment, sustainable energy, waste management and green economics.

Individually, the green initiatives are almost too many to count...

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